Saturday, 5 June 2010

Suite Francaise, Food for thought

I got so excited by my finds yesterday that I decide to have a go at joining in with Food for Thought, I have probably posted it incorrectly but there you go. I can only claim to have been a virgin!

SUITE FRANCAISE written by Irene Nemirovsky. Translated by Sandra Smith.

I highly recommend this book and would give it five stars. Beautifully written,a moving and intelligent account of a horrendous period in World history that has strong resonances with our modern times. Do read the appendixes  that tell of the real story of Irene Nemirovsky and how her manuscript only saw the light of day 65 years after it was written and she had died.

The two books that make up Suite Francaise are actually a ‘work in progress’. Although they seem polished and complete the author was working on them in 1942 as Germany invaded France during World War Two.

She cut the elderly Monsieur Pericands filet of sole into small strips. He was on a complicated diet that allowed him to eat only the lightest food and Madame Pericaud always served him herself, pouring his water, buttering his bread, tying his napkin around his neck, for he always started drooling when he saw food he liked.

Already a published writer and a refugee from the Russian revolution, Irene Nemirovsky was an extra-ordinary woman with an acute insight into the vagaries of the human condition.
Set in the year when France was invaded by Germany The first book follows a cast of Parisians as France falls to the German forces, the disbelief and fear as a nation crumbles and it becomes every man for himself as a tide of humanity fled from Paris southwards towards a hope of sanctuary. A sanctuary that many never reached.

After saying her prayers, Madame Pericaud left the church. Once outside, she decided to restock her supply of biscuits, which had been greatly diminished by her lavish generosity.
‘We’ve nothing left, Madame,’ said the employee.
‘What? No shortbread, no gingerbread, nothing?’
‘Nothing at all Madame. It’s all gone.’
‘Then let me have a pound of tea, Ceylon tea.’
‘There’s  nothing, Madame.’

The second part follows a small rural community under occupation.

The Germans had immediately demanded champagne(Sekt! Nahrung!) and corks flew from their hands. Some of them were playing billiards, others went into the kitchen carrying piles of raw pink pork cutlets which they threw on the fire; the meat sizzled and let off thick smoke as it cooked. The soldiers bought bottles of beer up from the cellar, impatiently pushing aside the waitress  who wanted to help them; a young man with a rosy complexion and a mass of golden hair was cracking eggs open on the edge of the stove; in the garden, someone else was picking the first strawberries of summer.

In frightening simplicity Nemirovsky describes the horror of an invasion. The demise of a cultured society and the inhumanity of man to man. The fear of the oppressed, the arrogance of the victors. Her descriptions of the depths to which we will all sink once our own survival is threatened.

She needed to feed and protect her own children. Nothing else mattered anymore.

It’s a book of pain and truth and even beauty. Although, ultimately,  through the chaos of defeat it is a book of hope.

This is a book that makes demands on you as a reader. It makes you think, makes you ashamed and makes you angry. I found it both disturbing and illuminating.

It is also a work  that has an enormous relevance to our world today, describing the denial of society when faced with catastrophic change.  Highlighting our inability to comprehend the evidence that surrounds us in every direction and raising  the spectre of what can and does happen when we leave it too late to deal with our altered circumstances.

Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942

Now as to the foodie part of this challenge. I am a little disadvantaged…

I live on a boat, a boat that is cruising around the world. A small boat with just two of us on board. My husband and myself. We are currently in Central America, in the jungle, up a river! It is just not possible to run out to a supermarket and buy a host of ingredients to order, nor do I have a magazine style kitchen and endless photography props! I have no appliances, I hear you gasp with horror! No microwave, blender, freezer. It’s all done by hand..
So excuse the basic nature of my photographs and cookery, I will do my best.

It may be remote here to many but we feel well served compared to many places we have been. We can sail up the river a few miles to a small town that is vibrant with roadside stalls and even a supermarket that we are led to believe is a scion of the Walmart chain. I have my doubts on that factoid! But produce buying here is a little hit and miss. If the roads are flooded, as they have been this week, many products simply cannot be delivered. The Mayan ladies with their woven baskets balanced on top of their immaculately plaited dark hair may not make it down from the mountains. There are regular shortages of items. Suddenly the whole place is out of yeast, or butter. It’s a fact of life that I am learning to cope with. In a small way, a very small way, it makes it easier to identify with the characters in Suite Francaise.

They could see the outskirts of Tours in the distance but the cars weren’t moving; a barricade had been set up at one of the crossroads. Everyone had to wait their turn. A whole hour went by like this. Gabriel was growing paler. It wasn’t sandwiches he was dreaming of now, but light, warming soup, or the buttery pates he’d once had in Tours.(He had been coming back from Biarritz with a woman.) It was odd, he couldn’t remember her name any more, or her face, the only thing that stuck in his memory were the smooth, rich little pates, each with a slice of truffle tucked away inside. Then he started thinking about meat: a great red slab of rare beef, with a curl of butter melting slowly over its tender flesh. What a delight…Yes, that was what he needed…roast beef…sirloin…fillet…a pork cutlet or mutton chop at a pinch. He sighed deeply.

So I will fire up the gas stove in my little galley and introduce you to one of my favourite luxuries that I make when the universe conspires to deliver the necessary ingredients to me…Chicken Liver Pate.
Not the truffle stuffed one that Gabriel salivates over, not a smooth luxury from Tours. Nevertheless it’s rich and creamy. Served chilled and fresh from the refrigerator (rather important as we are in the Tropics with regular daily temperatures of over 100 degrees F).

Chicken Liver Pate.
11/2lbs chicken livers, trimmed
1 tbsp butter for sauteing
1/2lb butter
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
A little ground nutmeg
½ glass brandy(or port, or rum)
1 tbsp Worcester sauce.
A little thyme

Finely chop the onion and saute them with the garlic in the butter for 3-4 minutes. Add the cleaned chicken livers and cook for a further 2 minutes. Lower the heat and leave for another 4 minutes. The livers should still be soft and slightly pink inside.
Add the herbs, brandy and Worcester sauce. Allow to reduce a little.
At this stage most of you can throw the whole lot in a blender along with the butter and puree.
( I, in contrast, mash the liver mixture down in a mortar and pestle and then rub it spoon by spoon through a fine mesh sieve! Then I beat in the softened butter.)
Put in a small bowl, cover with some clarified butter then Clingfilm and put into the refrigerator (I have got one of those)
It is better left for a couple of days to allow the flavours to develop, but should be eaten within a week.
Serve with crusty bread and a chilled glass of something white and crisp, Sauvignon Blanc is my tipple of choice.

Curl up with Irene and thank your lucky stars that you have food and wine on your table and are not fleeing for your life.


once in a blue moon... said...

oh i am so happy you joined in! i have had this on my to read list for so many years...

your review is wonderful, i can tell i really need to read this book, sometimes the topic matter is so overwhelming i hold back, but its important to read this and never ever forget. i just started a thread of grace, about fleeing italy during the war.

omg, i just read your on a boat traveling the world! i always write as i read, so its fresh in my mind. who needs props when the world is passing you by~ this is doubly exciting that you have joined in! i love to read about the adventurous type, and apparently that is YOU! i am so impressed that you wanted to play at food for thought too, its a quirky way to review, almost the absurdity of it all that makes it fun for me, but that you are joining in from your world travels has truly humbled me~

now i get the title of your blog too :-) lets hope it doesn't come to fruition!

i am thrilled you joined in, i look forward to you sharing all your readings along the way. i am sure with so much passing by your window you can work in non food pics to share too. are your traveling with a kindle for world wide instant access? i fear i could sink a fleet with all the books i would want to travel with~ i am so happy you joined in, you have taken me from my quiet little homebody life and thrust me out in the world sailing about, i marvel at this stuff! where did you start, how long have you been gone and how long do you plan to travel? i recently read the motion of the ocean, it seams to parallel your life, i hope you are keeping a great journal and publish your book too~

thank you for joining in!

Rettabug said...

"I am a little disadvantaged…

I live on a boat, a boat that is cruising around the world"


I know what you meant but I had to poke a bit of fun at that statement.

I can't begin to imagine doing that.
I think I about went stir crazy when we were stuck on a boat in Lake Erie longer than we intended. LOL

I have 2 male cousins who are currently sailing to Hawaii. I just heard about their adventure yesterday so I must find out if they are posting anywhere about their travels.

Your review is beautifully written. You have a wonderful command of the English language & I enjoyed this first visit to your blog immensely. I WILL BE BACH~said in my most sincere Arnold voice.

"my tipple of choice" I've never heard that expression but I intend to repeat it the first chance I get. :-)

I'm glad you joined FFT & look forward to reading more from you.

Gerry said...

Thank you both for such kind words...
I greatly enjoyed the challenge that you have created. Sometimes living in a 40 foot space floating in the middle of nowhere can be a little difficult!
No, no Kindle. I cannot bear the thought of not holding the weight of a book in my hand. they are my friends. That does, sadly, mean that I rely on visitors to deliver the latest titles. (No luggage allowed apart from books.) Or the strange selection in the various bookswaps that we find along the way.
It makes for an eclectic selection at times! I have become expert at sniffing out other sailors with a decent library and will ambush them to exchange good reading matter.
I'm already planning my next contribution. Thank yo for the stimulation, it is fun.

Maggie said...

You're on a boat traveling around the world??? OMGoodness, i am so jealous!!!!! Wow...

I think your pictures are wonderful and your review was stunning.

Thank you for sharing and not only will I be looking for more reviews, I'm going to be a follower of your blog because I want in on this adventure, even if only vicariously!

Gerry said...

Thank you Maggie, vicarious passengers are always welcome!¬

Mary said...

What an incredible voyage you must be on! At the same time I'm saying this, I am "gasping in horror at the no microwave & freezer" LOL, but I'm sure the pros far outweigh the cons!

I love how you write, "It’s a book of pain and truth and even beauty. Although, ultimately, through the chaos of defeat it is a book of hope." I look forward to see what you are reading & eating in the future and hearing more about your journey :-)

Joyce said...

I read this book and enjoyed it. Now traveling the world on a boat sounds amazing and I bet you could write your own book and share many recipes from all the places you are visiting. If you ever come to Hilton Head island let me know.

Gerry said...

Thank you for the invite, you never know...
As to writing a book it seems like a bit too much hard work for my liking!

Karen @ Mignardise said...

Excellent review. I loved this book too. It was one that has stuck with me for a long time.
I would think being boat-bound would be perfect fr blogging. I hope you'll join Food for Thought again, so we can hear more of your yachting adventures.

Is it sail or power?

Gerry said...

The boat is a sail boat, 40 feet long and I love her dearly!

Rebecca said...

I found IRENE when fleeing for my life, there was no wine to be had and the food was scarce, but my soul and spirit was nourished by the story behind this novel. I am so thankful that her daughters have found and been successful in bringing to light recently found gems from their mother. FIRE IN THE BLOOD is a wonderfully powerful novel and also a worthy read.

In my re-reading of her works I have enjoyed whole days with French baguettes, a bottle of good French wine, and some good cheese.

Thank you for sharing your review with us.

Gerry said...

Thank you for the steer toward Fire in the Blood, that is one I will look out for.
I am so glad your flight was successful and that you now have food and wine on the table.
Isn't it wonderful how another human being can inspire us through the written word across time and geography?

Sarah said...

Glad you have joined in with FFT. Greatly enjoyed your review, and in total awe of your adventure. Tell us more . . . I'm going to cruise your blog and see what other fascinating things await.

Gerry said...

Thank you Sarah, I hope you find some other interesting pieces...