Forty-three years old, trailing secrets and extravagant lies, Myriam has just convinced a bank to give her a loan to open a small restaurant in the Eleventh Arrondissement of Paris. Chez Moi is a modest place, but the name alone signifies its importance. Too poor to rent an apartment, Myriam must live in the restaurant,
Forty-three years old, trailing secrets and extravagant lies, Myriam has just convinced a bank to give her a loan to open a small restaurant in the Eleventh Arrondissement of Paris. Chez Moi is a modest place, but the name alone signifies its importance. Too poor to rent an apartment, Myriam must live in the restaurant, sleeping on a banquette and bathing in the (thankfully) deep kitchen sink. The restaurant could be her last chance to create a new, stable life for herself.
Six years earlier, Myriam did the unthinkable; she initiated an affair with her son Hugo’s friend. Humiliated and embarrassed, and unable to make amends, Myriam decides to leave her family. With her only possessions, a small suitcase and a thirty-three book library, she managed to secure a position cooking for the Santo Salto circus. The misfits and talented strays of the circus gave her a home, but they could not shelter her from her past indiscretion. Myriam had to find her own way back into the world.
With the establishment of Chez Moi, she cautiously opens her life back up for business. Still tender from the loss of her family, she has little faith in herself or in the future of her restaurant, and is skeptical of the people around her. Despite her misgivings, she puts all the love that she cannot give her family into the food she prepares. Gradually, whether she wants to admit it or not, the restaurant begins to change her.
Myriam has always felt that her life has been predetermined, but with the opening of Chez Moi, things begin to take a positive turn. Ben, an outwardly awkward yet astoundingly graceful waiter, appears at the very moment she needs him, and Vincent, the uptight florist next door, becomes her dear friend after a fraught beginning. Though she is a self-taught cook, her dishes are skillfully executed, and her vivid dreams and intoxicating visions for the restaurant create a haven for the local community. But as her success grows, so does her fear that her life could crumble again, leaving her with nothing.
By reaching out to Ali, a farmer whom she knew during her years cooking for the circus, Myriam hopes to bring his magic to her new venture. But Ali does much more than transform her kitchen; he transforms Myriam’s entire perspective, allowing her to love again. And when, after six years of silence, her son seeks her out with the help of the new love in his own life, Myriam finally begins to make peace with herself.
“This lovely book is a cassoulet bulging with lush, delectable descriptions of cuisine and straight-shooting observations on life. Myriam’s restaurant has as much to do with improvising ways of living, loving and finding one’s way home again as with eating well. It’s a frothy, complex pleasure to linger there with her.”—Publisher Weekly
Myriam says she cooks “with and out of love” (p. 3), yet is unable to feel love for her son. Is it possible to stop loving your child? What circumstances do you believe would cause something like that to happen?
The way Myriam describes flowers and food is deeply affectionate and almost anthropomorphic. Why do you think she is she able to so lushly convey her love for these things, yet have such trouble with people?
Where you surprised by Rainer’s slap and the aftermath? Do you believe that love can die so suddenly? What are some other reasons that could cause a relationship to end swiftly and without argument?
When Myriam’s betrayal and the reason for her abandonment are revealed, does it change your view of her? How were you able to understand or empathize with her unfaithfulness? If you were in her position, would you have made the same decision to leave?
Myriam has elaborate, realistic dreams that reflect her state of mind and desires. Why do you think she remembers them so clearly? What affect do they have on her? How do your own dreams affect your waking life?
At the end of Chez Moi, Hugo and Myriam reunite after six years apart. It can be argued that often it is much easier to remain estranged from a person than to make strides to patch things up. Have you had an experience in your own life when you had to choose whether or not to repair a relationship that had grown distant? Who made the first move towards contact, and how did it work out in the end? Was it worth the effort?
Ali tells Myriam, “You’re the wildest person I’ve ever met” (p. 237). Myriam has taken such risks in her life but in her mind, she is merely a cook. Why do you think she’s still so unaware of others’ perceptions of her? Do you think your own self-perception is accurate? Are you surprised at what others see in you?
Myriam feels that she needs to leave behind the restaurant and everything that she’s created if she’s going to give herself wholly to Ali. What did the restaurant say about her that has now changed? Do you agree with her decision?
Desire, physical and emotional, plays a large role in the book. So does destiny. How are the ideas of desire and destiny intertwined? Do you think it is possible to will something to happen?