From Absinthe to Zest: Book review. I love France #59


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From Absinthe to Zest:

An Alphabet for Food Lovers


Alexandre DUMAS

33 pages

Published in 2011 by Penguin Classics
From work originally published in 1873

From Absinthe to Zest

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

               Books on France Paris in July 2013   



Rating system

The publication last year of The Black Count reacquainted with the fabulous author of The Count of Monte Cristo. What was then my surprise and joy when stumbling on this little book by Alexandre Dumas: From Absinthe To Zest. I had no idea he had ever published un grand dictionnaire de cuisine. As I can’t have access to it here, it was delightful to read at least some samples of it in this short volume.

As you can see through the few excerpts I list here below, it is a real gem, combining recipes of the time with great humor and little anecdotes related to the ingredient Dumas describes. Good food and good writing, what else would you want?


 As well as being the author of The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas was also an enthusiastic gourmand and expert cook. His Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, published in 1873, is an encyclopedic collection of ingredients, recipes and anecdotes, from Absinthe to Zest via cake, frogs’ legs, oysters, Roquefort and vanilla. Included here are recipes for bamboo pickle and strawberry omelette, advice on cooking all manner of beast from bear to kangaroo, all brought together in a witty and gloriously eccentric culinary compendium.This edition is part of the Great Food series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. [Goodreads]


Dumas p. viiiDumas p.2Dumas p.3Dumas p.7Dumas p.81


Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, père (French for “father”, akin to Senior in English), (July 24, 1802 – December 5, 1870) born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, was a French writer, best known for his numerous historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world. Many of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne were serialized. Dumas also wrote plays and magazine articles, and was a prolific correspondent. [Goodreads]
Here is a great website with tons of things on him, both in French and English.




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I love France #35: (2012) #58 Review: The Black Count


I plan to publish this meme every Thursday.
You can share here about any book
or anything cultural you just discovered related to France, Paris, etc.

Please spread the news on Twitter, Facebook, etc !
Feel free to grab my button,
and link your own post through Mister Linky,
at the bottom of this post.



The Black Count:

Glory, Revolution, Betrayal,
and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

by Tom Reiss

340 pages

Published by Crown/Random House in September 2012

Ebook received from Crown via Netgalley




Rating system

Wow, I was really impressed by this book! Reading The Count of Monte Cristo was such a wonderful experience, years back, that I jumped on the opportunity to reconnect with it.
But The Black Count  is much more than the story of the real Count of Monte Cristo, or of the person who deeply inspired the character of the novel.

In fact, I have read several reviewers criticizing the fact that the book was too vast, not enough focused on the man himself.

I totally disagree with those reviewers: what they considered a weakness, I perceived as a wealth for this fascinating book.

Because of the origin and the life of Alexandre Dumas, you will learn a lot about:

  • life in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti),
  • its slaves and its elite,
  • life around the sugar cane industry,
  • and life in France in the 18th century, around the time of the French Revolution,
  • how France was avant-garde in its position towards slaves and “Americans”, (understand Africans and African-Americans), and then went backwards
  • the rising of Napoleon,
  • his military campaigns, including in Egypt.

And many more things, all so well put in the perspective of the time and evolution of ideas and manners.

The book is extremely well researched, though history books, current archives, etc. You will in fact find an impressive number of references per page at the end of the book!

To go back to Alexandre Dumas as the source of the Count of Monte Cristo, I liked the way the author inserted passages of Dumas’s writings to illustrate his point.

VERDICT:The Black Count makes for a thoroughly fascinating and enlightening read. If you are an adept of The Count of Monte Cristo, you really need to read this book.


Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo—a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.

Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East—until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son. [Goodreads]


Tom Reiss

TOM REISS is the author of the celebrated international bestseller The Orientalist.

His biographical pieces have appeared The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications.

He makes his home in New York City.

[from the publisher]




Just a reminder guys:
If you link your own post on France,
please if possible
include the title of the book or topic in your link:
name of your blog (name of the book title or topic):
example : me @ myblog  (Camus)

9 titles for our October Book Club

Recap of our Block Book Club October meeting


Recap of the titles we shared [synopsis from].

1) Wanderlust: A History of Walking

by Rebecca Solnit (2000) – presented by J.

A pastoral and poetic investigation of the politics, philosophy, and history of walking. The book includes profiles of some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction, from Wordsworth to Andre Breton’s Nadja.


2) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

by Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn (2008) – presented by A.

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.
They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.
Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.
Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.


3) The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (1844)  – presented by F.

‘On what slender threads do life and fortune hang’.
Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas’ epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialized in the 1840s.
Robin Buss’ lively translation is complete and unabridged, and remains faithful to the style of Dumas’ original. This edition includes an introduction, explanatory notes and suggestions for further reading.

4) Siddhartha

by Hermann Hesse, Hilda Rosner (1922)  – presented by B.

In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.


5) Hostage

by Elie Wiesel, Catherine Temerson (August 2012) – presented by M.

From Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of Night, a charged, deeply moving novel about the legacy of the Holocaust in today’s troubled world and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.
With beauty and sensitivity, Wiesel builds the world of Shaltiel’s memories, haunted by the Holocaust and a Europe in the midst of radical change. A Communist brother, a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis in a cellar, the kindness of liberating Russian soldiers, the unrest of the 1960s—these are the stories that unfold in Shaltiel’s captivity, as the outside world breathlessly follows his disappearance and the police move toward a final confrontation with his captors.
Impassioned, provocative and insistently humane, Hostage is both a masterly thriller and a profoundly wise meditation on the power of memory to connect us to the past and our shared need for resolution.


6) Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

by Suzanne Collins (2009) – presented by P.

Sparks are igniting, flames are spreading and the Capitol wants revenge.

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

In Catching Fire, the second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, testing her more than ever before…and surprising readers at every turn.



7) The Double Game

by Dan Fesperman (August 2012) – presented by P.

A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, spook-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster revealed to up-and-coming journalist Bill Cage that he’d once considered spying for the enemy. For Cage, a Foreign Service brat who grew up in the very cities where Lemaster’s books were set, the news story created a brief but embarrassing sensation and heralded the beginning of the end of his career in journalism.

More than two decades later, Cage, now a lonely, disillusioned PR man, receives an anonymous note hinting that he should have dug deeper into Lemaster’s pronouncement. Spiked with cryptic references to some of Cage’s favorite spy novels, the note is the first of many literary bread crumbs that lead him back to Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, each instruction drawing him closer to the complex truth, each giving rise to more questions: Why is beautiful Litzi Strauss back in his life after thirty years? How much of his father’s job involved the CIA? As the events of Lemaster’s past eerily—and dangerously—begin intersecting with those of Cage’s own, a “long stalemate of secrecy” may finally be coming to an end.

A story about spies and their secrets, fathers and sons, lovers and fate, duplicity and loyalty, The Double Game ingeniously taps the espionage classics of the Cold War to build a spellbinding maze of intrigue. It is Dan Fesperman’s most audacious, suspenseful, and satisfying novel yet.



Aleppo Codex

by Matti Friedman (May 2012) – presented by Emma

In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.

The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation. [from the publisher].

And here is my personal review of the audiobook.


9) The House of Thunder

by Dean Koontz, Leigh Nichols (Pseudonym) (1982) – presented by J.

Oh wow, did you know that Leigh Nichols was actually Dean Koontz?!

Susan Thorton awakens in a hospital, after a near-fatal car crash, to see four men lurking outside her door–men who exactly resemble those who killed her boyfriend years before. Can these be the same men? As she tries to uncover the identities of those stalking her, Susan enters a terrifying nightmare–one from which she may never escape.

Previously published by Pocket under the pseudonym Leigh Nichols.