A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS

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9781442341913: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS

New York Times bestselling author Jennet Conant presents this stunning account of Julia Child’s early life as a member of the O.S.S. in the Far East during World War II, and the tumultuous years when she and Paul Child were caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt.

When the news was first released in the fall of 2008 that Julia Child had secretly worked for the O.S.S. the announcement made headlines across the country. Julia Child’s legions of fans were shocked. Now, there is an enormous amount of new material available to flesh out this fascinating story. Julia Child’s O.S.S. files as well as those of her husband and many of her closest friends in the service, have recently been declassified.

Conant has written a wonderful and meticulously researched account about three young women who were recruited by the O.S.S. in Washington and sent to remote outposts in the Far East.

The bright and often eccentric 6’ 2” Julia springs to life, like a privileged and naïve heroine out of an Edith Wharton novel and follows her personal and political coming of age in Ceylon and China, and the life altering romance at thirty-four with the much older and more worldly Paul Child.

The dramatic experiences of Julia’s close friend Jane Foster, a charismatic blue-eyed blond O.S.S. agent, casts a provocative light on those nightmarish postwar years. During the height of the McCarthy red hunt, Foster was accused of being a spy. Suspicion quickly fell on her closest friends. Julia and Paul Child, who stayed loyal to Jane Foster, left the diplomatic corps and found a new line of work, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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About the Author:

Jennet Conant is the author of Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist and the New York Times bestsellers The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington and Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. She has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


It started with the arrival of a telegram. Ever since the war, the thin slip of a letter had become permanently fixed in people’s minds as a harbinger of death and disaster. Why Julia believed for one moment that it would be good news she could not recall—just that she had been so sure. The cable, which reached them in Bonn on Thursday, April 7, 1955, was addressed to her husband, Paul Child. The cursory message took the form of an urgent summons to Washington: REPORT SOONEST FOR CONSULTATION.

Julia had been over the moon. She knew exactly why Paul was being called stateside. They were going to make him “head of the department.” She had even told him as much, her voice brimming with confidence and pride. Incapable of containing her excitement, she had been ready to celebrate then and there. It was silly of her, but characteristic, too. She had gone on happily speculating about the telegram the rest of the evening. Paul had eventually gotten caught up in her mood, his reluctant, mock impatience giving way to anticipation. This, at last, was his promotion, long deserved and long overdue. Then again, when had the State Department ever done anything in a timely fashion?

She supposed they should be grateful. Paul had never been particularly ambitious and because he had little patience with bureaucracy had remained mired in the middle ranks of the Foreign Service. He had never intended to pursue a diplomatic career and lacked the necessary instincts. He had simply been rolled into the State Department after the war and eventually found himself, along with most of his old department, reorganized into the newly formed United States Information Service (USIS).“Woodenhead the First” and “Wooden-head the Second,” or WH1 and WH2 for short) Paul was finally going to get his due. Perhaps he would get to run his own show or, at the very least, be allowed to pick the members of his own team. There were few things more demoralizing, in Julia’s opinion, than “working for people you don’t admire.”

It was just the morale boost they both needed. Six months earlier, Julia and Paul had been forced to leave their beloved France and, crueler still, an adorable apartment in the old port city of Marseille, because of an inane government decree that a diplomatic post in any given country could not exceed a period of four years. The three years they had spent in Paris directly after the war, followed by a fifteen-month stint on the southern coast, meant they had exceeded the limit. They had no choice but to pack up and go where they were told.

The transfer to Bonn could not have come at a worse time. Julia had been in the midst of testing recipes for a French cookbook she was contracted to write for the Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin with two fellow gourmands she had met in Paris. She knew that the new assignment for Paul not only would take her farther from her collaborators, but would remove her from the country in whose cuisine she should be immersing herself. As difficult as it had been for her to box up her kitchen in Marsailles, Julia understood that the move was infinitely harder on Paul. He had spent his formative years in France, and the language had become second nature to him, as had the internecine squabbling of the locals. The country had captured his heart long before it had taken hold of hers.

Leaving Paris for Marseilles had been a wrenching experience, but it was nothing compared to the jolt that Julia and Paul experienced upon learning they were being posted to Bonn. Paul was fluent in a number of languages, but German was not one of them. It was a poor use of his skills, and he was beside himself. While he had long since reconciled himself to the fact that few things in their government agency followed the dictates of logic, this yank of the chain was particularly galling. Julia could think of nothing to say to cheer him up. She had never set foot in Germany and was “horrified” at the thought. Her memories of World War II were too fresh for her not to dread the idea of settling in Bonn, which had temporarily replaced Berlin as the official seat of the government because it reportedly had less historical baggage. She could only hope she would think better of the new West German capital for having escaped the brunt of the Nazi boot. “To think of living in Germany,” she grimly wrote Paul’s family. “Will I ever get over the imagined smell of the gas chambers and the rotting bodies of the Concentration camps. Will we ever be able to learn the language in a couple of months?”*

Their first glimpse of their new home did nothing to lift their spirits. “Woe—how did we get here!” Julia scribbled in her diary on October 24, 1954, the day they arrived in Bad Godesberg, a drab residential district just south of Bonn. Flush with dollars from the Marshall Plan, the entire Rhine Valley had been rapidly rebuilt as part of the country’s economic and industrial redevelopment, and it was full of blocky concrete office buildings and bristling with American soldiers. Julia and Paul were dismayed to find themselves back in the familiar embrace of the U.S. military, assigned to live in a segregated (“no Germans allowed!”) compound called Plittersdorf on the Rhine, which its unfortunate occupants had dubbed “the Golden Ghetto on the Rhine.” They had never cared for this part of army life—the rows of anonymous housing, streets crawling with jeeps and military policemen, and bars crowded with drunken young men in ill-fitting uniforms who wanted to be anywhere but there. Writing to her sister, Julia griped that she had “had enough of that meat-ballery during the war to last her a lifetime.” Still, there were plenty of opportunities for escape. Paul’s Foreign Service salary enabled them to live well, especially as the dollar was strong against the mark. Whenever possible, they fled across the river to Bonn, a picturesque university town that had been occupied by American troops toward the end of the war and had somehow managed to survive relatively unscathed, its medieval battlements and grand boulevards still redolent of Old World charm. There they could sample the solid regional fare, the sauerbratens and sausages, inevitably served with groaning plates of potato pancakes. Afterward, too full to go far, they would stop to recover at one of the pavement cafÉs along the banks of the river.

Julia and Paul, like most in their seasoned diplomatic circle, had always been guilty of a certain disdain for GI culture, but what had once been mild distaste had over time developed into a visceral aversion. They wanted no part of the martial fervor that arose in the shadow of the Soviet threat in East Germany. Bonn, the makeshift capital, seemed by virtue of its very impermanence to bring out the worst in its American occupiers, who were so conflicted about their objectives in the divided region that they appeared to be almost paralyzed. Caught between the menacing Soviet Union and Western Europe’s fears of military vulnerability, Bonn was emblematic of the tenuous peace, and of the uncertain prospects for American forces and American dollars to achieve a united capitalist postwar Europe to deter the spread of Communism. Writing in The New York Times, Julia and Paul’s friend Stewart Alsop observed that the U.S. diplomatic mission in Germany was “a peculiarly depressing place for a peculiarly American reason” and, in its confusion and excess of caution, was substituting “dogma for policy and the official line for serious thought.”

Within weeks of their arrival in Germany, Julia and Paul had picked up on the atmosphere of distrust and unease. The place was rife with closed-door meetings, simmering tensions, and subterranean plots. They were on the front lines of the Cold War in Europe, though Julia could not help feeling that the chill in the air had its origin in the “rampant right wingery” that had seized their own country in recent years. In Washington, the mood was so changed that on her last visit home she had scarcely recognized the city as the same place she and Paul had lived in those first happy postwar years.

When peace was declared, Americans had celebrated their achievement. The GIs had triumphed over Germany, over Japan, and, in the bargain, over the Great Depression, and in the first glow of euphoria that victory had seemed complete. The United States, with its great economic and military strength, seemed invincible. During the late 1940s, while based in Paris, Julia and Paul had watched as their country’s ascendance as a global power led to a new confidence in its role in international affairs, as well as a greater sense of its responsibilities in preserving the peace and shaping the future, and the corresponding spread of U.S. policy-making agencies and legations around the globe.

As the rewards of war failed to meet the impossibly high expectations, however, the euphoria had quickly faded. New fears about the nation’s security had gripped the public. The tone of political debate in Congress grew sharply partisan and bitter, with the Republicans making the most of charges of Communist infiltration of the Truman administration, as though that could explain the failure to foresee what had happened with the Soviet Union and China. In the spring of 1947, in an effort to protect his administration, President Harry S. Truman established the Federal Employee Loyalty Program, a broad measure instituting background checks and screening procedures for all incumbent and prospective government employees. But instead of reassuring the public, the program helped legitimize the idea that international Communism posed a domestic threat. By the end of 1950, Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury, Klaus Fuchs confessed, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested on espionage charges of passing bomb secrets to the Russians. Inevitably, ...

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Conant, Jennet
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio (2011)
ISBN 10: 1442341912 ISBN 13: 9781442341913
New Quantity Available: 2
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)

Book Description Simon & Schuster Audio, 2011. Audio CD. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111442341912

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