The winter Lucy Knisley turns twenty-two and her mother turns fifty, the two of them decide to spend about five weeks living in Paris. They are both at critical points in their lives.
French Milk is the charming journal of Knisley's experience in the City of Lights. Using drawings and photographs, she shows us a unique mix of typical tourist spots (the Eiffel Tower) and parts of the city discovered only by exploring (small unheralded markets). The book is a little bit travel guide and a whole lot foodie.
What is particularly interesting about the memoir is that Knisley takes a frank look at herself and her own behavior. She is not sure of her future, she misses her friends, and she sometimes feels blue. However, her intelligence and appreciation of the arts (literary, visual, and culinary) are strong elements, whether she is searching for her favorite Courbet painting or marveling that she is standing in the same bookstore that Hemingway frequented. Knisley's honesty also comes across when she writes about the less attractive sides of the city. We learn of the snotty maître d', freaky street people, and rude behavior.
Throughout it all, however, is the food: descriptions of food, drawings of food, hints at recipes, visits to restaurants, wanderings through markets, and shopping ventures in kitchen stores. Knisley and her mother are hearty and adventuresome eaters. If you've ever been to Europe, you'll immediately be dreaming of your favorite meal, good bread, excellent coffee, and wonderful cheese. I was ready to call the airlines and start packing!
Just before leaving for France, Knisley had applied for an internship with a cartoonist; that her journal would be in graphic form was only natural. The drawings in French Milk have just enough detail that the images and people's emotions are instantly recognizable, but they are definitely in the comic genre (click image to see in full size). I easily connected with Knisley's approachable style. Her photographs provide added interest, but I don't think they are of the same quality as her artwork.
I loved Knisley's relationship with her mother, and the book had me dreaming of spending a month with my own mother in Europe. I wish we had thought of doing the same thing thirty years ago. I recommend the book to travelers, foodies, mothers and daughters, and lovers of memoirs and graphic books.
According to Publisher's Weekly, Knisley is working on a second graphic memoir that will focus more exclusively on food. Lucy Knisley has a website with examples of her art, writing, and music.
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2008
Challenges: 100+, 999