Julia Child's passion for French cuisine began when she and her husband, Paul, moved to Paris in 1948. The couple met in Ceylon in 1944 when both were in the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, and they married two years later. To tell their story, Conant (The Irregulars) combed through numerous archives to fill in the deep backgrounds of their OSS friends. Opening with OSS origins and the 1943 OSS recruits, the narrative follows the WWII trajectory of Julia Child, who volunteered for a post at the OSS base in India. At Mountbatten's mountaintop headquarters, the team included Julia, Paul, and the flamboyant Jane Foster. With the end of WWII, Jane flew to Java to record the war crimes testimonies of American POWs, while Paul and Julia's romance heated up in China and France. The couple fell under suspicion when Jane was targeted with accusations of espionage, having "left a trail of Communist ties the FBI followed like breadcrumbs" (though Conant found no conclusive evidence that Jane was a Soviet spy). The bulk of this book is mostly about Jane, making the title somewhat misleading, but Conant's vivid tapestry of the 1940s skillfully interweaves interviews, oral histories, memoirs, and recently unclassified OSS and FBI documents with unpublished diaries and letters. The adventurous young OSS recruits spring to life throughout this meticulously researched, authoritative history. (Apr.)
Praise for A Covert Affair
“Jennet Conant’s A Covert Affair is an absolutely top-class work of the true-spy genre; elegantly written, authentic, exceptionally sophisticated, and not at all what you might expect of a book with a picture of Julia Child on the cover. This ain’t about cooking.”
Alan Furst, author of Spies of the Balkans
"Conant's vivid tapestry of the 1940s skillfully interweaves interviews, oral histories, memoirs, and recently unclassified OSS and FBI documents with unpublished diaries and letters. The adventurous young OSS recruits spring to life throughout this meticulously researched, authoritative history."
Praise for The Irregulars
“What critics praise most in Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars is the quality that is becoming the author’s signature knack: her ability to show how a seemingly obscure group of characters personifies the mood of a time and place and exercises more influence than one might expect…. Expert writing and research. ”
“What more could you want from a book? Here is a discussion of propaganda and covert actions written with text-book clarity. Salacious gossip about the upper circles of Washington’s political and media community. A writing style that has one racing from page to page, eager to soak in more details. I thump my desk with glee over Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars…. A truly fascinating book.”
Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times
“As was true of her excellent first book, Tuxedo Park, in The Irregulars [Conant] removes the dust of history. … Entertaining and instructive.”
Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Exhaustively researched and vividly written…. Conant vividly captures the personalities.”
“A thoroughly engrossing story, one Conant tells exceptionally well.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for Tuxedo Park
“Remarkable and remarkably told, as if F. Scott Fitzgerald had penned Batman.”
Kirkus (starred review)
“A must read for all fans of World War II history. It will captivate. ”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Former journalist Conant (The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington) again forays into the World War II era, here following several Office of Strategic Services (OSS) recruits. Though it's a well-researched, entertaining, and fast-paced read, a substantial portion of the book follows, rather than Paul and Julia Child, the adventures of Jane Foster, a dilettante artist who served with them in the OSS and was later accused (but never convicted) of being a Communist spy. Foster, the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco family, was recruited into the OSS because she had lived in Asia. She came to be stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with Julia and Paul. The book follows Foster after the war, when she unwittingly worked for the Soviets, or so she claimed in her autobiography, An UnAmerican Lady (1982). VERDICT If readers are looking for an engaging account of Jane Foster, the socialite-turned-spy, and her OSS friends, then this is well worth reading. Those who are expecting to learn about Julia Child and her husband would be better served by Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/10.]—Crystal Goldman, San Jose St. Univ. Lib., CA
The author of three previous accounts of World War II espionage (The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, 2008, etc.) returns with the story of the Childs and their associates during their turbulent, eventful years with the Office of Strategic Services.
Although her title identifies the Childs as her focus, Conant devotes even more attention to the puzzling case of Jane Foster, friend of the Childs and fellow OSS operative later indicted as a Soviet spy. It's hard not to notice Foster—wealthy, attractive, flighty, loquacious, and "impossible to resist." The author is certainly interested in Paul and Julia Child—their backgrounds, protracted courtship, wartime activities, postwar lives and Julia's emergence as a celebrity author and TV personality. But Conant continually returns to the charisma and conundrums of Foster. Was she just irresponsible? Capricious? Careless? Or was she truly ensnared in a vast web of deceit spun by the KGB? The author concludes that Foster was either strikingly dense or actually culpable—near the end she calls her a liar and a "snob to the core." Conant begins her tale in 1955 when Paul Child, called to Washington for what he thought was a promotion in the United States Information Service, discovered, instead, that he must undergo hours of interrogation. The government was seeking out crypto-Commies—was Paul one? His wife? And what about Jane Foster? Conant then sweeps back into the chaotic days of Wild Bill Donovan and the creation of the OSS, its recruitment of the principals, their activities during the war and their subsequent lives, loves and enterprises. Conant reveals both indignity at the excesses of McCarthyism and disgust with those who committed betrayal.
Thoroughly researched, fluid and compelling.
This is the fourth book in which Conant has explored a largely overlooked wartime community…The value of her anecdotal approach is not in what it reveals about the O.S.S. or the Red hunt but in its depiction of ordinary relationships in extraordinary circumstancesof the way friendships, feuds and romances develop in strange and secretive settings.
The New York Times