CHEZ MOI

By Agnes Desarthe, Adriana Hunter, Translator
Penguin BooksApril 2008
www.penguin.com

Trade Paperback272 pages, $14.00, ISBN: 978-0-143-11323-2
Subject: Relationships / Women's Lives / Family

 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.

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