Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen

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Doubleday Canada, Nov 5, 2010 - Fiction - 480 pages
4 Reviews

Stretching between turn-of-the-century Paris and contemporary Canada, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen is the story of three women whose lives intersect across time to reveal the intrinsic bonds of our collective and personal histories. It is a rich and compassionate debut, a novel that encourages us to explore the depths of love and memory, of life and of art.

Unable to escape the pain of her unrequited love for Max Segal, Marie Prévost travels to Paris in order to study the writing of her other great amour: the novelist Marcel Proust. Marie is bilingual and works as a simultaneous translator in Montreal, and believes that reading Proust’s original papers will give her insights into love and loss that just may mend her broken heart. But when Marie arrives in Paris, Marcel remains as elusive as Max: the strict officials at the Bibliotèque Nationale only allow her access to the peripheral papers of File 263--a much ignored and poorly catalogued collection of the diaries kept by Jeanne Proust, Marcel’s mother. Despite the head librarian’s opinion that they contain only the “natterings of a housewife,” Marie begins to translate them, and discovers that Jean Proust’s diary is as illuminating for what is not said as what is there.

Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen is Kate Taylor’s first novel, and has been highly praised by reviewers. Most comment on Taylor’s wonderful ability to weave together three distinct stories in such a way that the larger truths emerge from among their combined details, and on the subtle way she is able to meld history and fiction. As one literary critic has stated, “Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen marks the stunning emergence of a writer from whom we can expect much in the future.”


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - brocade - LibraryThing

Highly detailed, descriptive writing. Seventeen lines to describe a man's lips (p.422). Trying to imitate Proust? Proust had an extraordinary imagination. Taylor did a lot of research. Ideally ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - LynnB - LibraryThing

This novel contains three connected stories. The first is told through the diaries of Marcel Proust's mother, Jeanne. The writing in the diaries flows quickly and gives a wonderful picture of life in ... Read full review



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About the author (2010)

Kate Taylor was born in France and raised in Ottawa, and now makes Toronto her home. As a teenager, she knew that she would be a writer, though she pursued not fiction but journalism, a passion she discovered in high school. While attending Glebe Collegiate in Ottawa, Taylor wrote for her school’s newspaper, and she continued this work while attending university -- first writing for the University of Toronto’s student papers, then achieving her Masters degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario -- and later at such publications as The London Free Press and The Hamilton Spectator. In 1989 Taylor was hired by The Globe and Mail, and from 1995 to 2003 she served as the paper’s theatre critic, winning two Nathan Cohen Awards for her reviews. In September 2003 she took on a new assignment, writing a twice-weekly column about cultural issues for the paper’s arts section. She has also contributed to Canadian Art, Applied Arts, and CBC Radio’s The Arts Today, and is the author of Painters (1989), a biography of Canadian artists written for children.

Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, Taylor’s first novel, also owes a debt to her high-school years. Much like Marie Prévost in the novel, Taylor was introduced to the writing of Marcel Proust in one of her French classes. “He’s the first serious author I understood as a teenager,” she has said. “Great authors don’t speak to adolescents very effectively because they’re writing about stuff they haven’t experienced yet: Love, death and big ideas. But when Proust wrote that just the taste of a madeleine could trigger so many memories, it was an experience I recognized.” After working her way through the many volumes of Proust’s epic novel Remembrance of Things Past (now retitled In Search of Lost Time), she turned to reading about his life.

It was only when the initial idea for Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen came to Kate Taylor that she considered writing a work of fiction. She had been reading biographies of Marcel Proust at the time, and in the tidbits of information included about his mother, Jeanne Proust, Taylor saw similarities to the women she knew: middle-aged 20th-century women somewhat at odds with their surroundings and their families, in part due to their pre-immigration experiences in Europe. At that moment Taylor started making the parallels that would underpin and link the three narratives of the book, and knew that the full story was one that simply needed to be told in fiction: “This to me was a way of addressing certain stories, certain emotions, certain themes that are never going to be addressed in a theatre review, because it’s always addressing what someone else has done.”

It took five years for Taylor to write this novel and find a publisher, but she relished in being able to lose herself in the creative process in a way that was very different from her journalistic work. As she commented in one interview, “Part of the attraction of writing novels for a journalist is the big project, the thing you get to live with as opposed to ‘get it done today and then it’s off to the bottom of the bird cage.’ I certainly loved living in that private world. It was like living a fantasy.” Still, despite the differences in the work at hand, Taylor found the investigative and research skills of her journalistic career to be invaluable to her writing, particularly while reading Proust’s letters and rereading the Proust biographies, taking extensive notes on the key events in the Prousts’ family life. From there, she was able to find Madame Proust’s fictional voice and create the diary, then move on to fleshing out the 20th-century characters. “The marathon that is writing a novel proved equally joyful and a whole lot longer than I’d expected,” she has said. “Its frustrations could last for weeks, but the rewards it offered my imagination have endured for years.”

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