I admit I fell for the title of this book, thinking it would be a foodie book. It really isn’t, although food does play a part. But it is more a family saga, moving between small towns in France and New York, spanning almost a hundred years.
It starts just before World War II when Ondine helps her mother with the cooking and cleaning in the family’s cafe. She is just sixteen years old when an important artist rents the house down the road for the summer. The mysterious “patron” wants his lunch delivered every day, and Ondine rides her bike with her basket of food for Picasso.
He is laying low, caught in a mess – he’s married and has mistresses, all of whom are goading one another. Ondine eventually models for him, and he promises her the painting. But Picasso takes off without giving it to her.
Ondine’s parents try to marry her off to the town baker, thinking his influx of money will help the cafe. But Ondine is waiting for her boyfriend Luc, gone off to sea to make enough money to marry her. Eventually she ends up in New Rochelle, New York, with her own restaurant. Things go awry and she moves back to France with her daughter, in search of the painting that was promised her.
There are two story lines going on here. Ondine’s granddaughter returns to France to try and find the Picasso, so it moves back and forth between timelines, and the mystery makes for a very entertaining and interesting read. There is a bit of romance as well, but it feels more like a device to further the plot.
Historical novels based on someone famous have become quite popular. Fans of Paula McLain (The Paris Wife) or Nancy Horan (Loving Frank) will probably enjoy this book, although I don’t know how much of it is historically accurate. Perhaps the bits about Picasso and how he lived are the most authentic but it is all interesting. I found it a bit slow in the beginning but it picks up once the dual story line kicks in, ended up being a terrific read. Book groups will find much to discuss here.
3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
COOKING FOR PICASSO by Camille Aubray. Ballantine Books (August 9, 2016). ISBN: 978-0399177651. 400p.