Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's nostalgic look back at the restaurant, Upstairs at the Pudding, is the story of a girl who grew up in the kitchen and dining room of that restaurant. And, so much of her life as she tells it can be summarized by the fact that she was named for the dessert, charlotte au chocolat, which was the signature dish of the restaurant, and the title of her book.

In 1982, Charlotte's parents and a partner, Mary Catherine Deibel, opened their restaurant above the Hasty Pudding Club in Harvard Square. And, that restaurant became home for Charlotte for almost twenty years. Her father was the head chef and her mother made the desserts, until their divorce when Charlotte was six. Her father left, tired of working in restaurants, and her mother stepped up, taking over the kitchen and the business. And, Charlotte spent days and nights, weekends, waiting while first her parents, and then her mother, worked.

Silver's account is a story of contrast. Everyone thought they were rich, and she dressed in party dresses to be seen by the customers. And, the food was rich and plentiful. The restaurant and the club were well-known. At the same time, the family spent all the time at the restaurant. They lost their house, rented places to live. And, behind the facade of the Hasty Pudding Club, the building was old, abused by college students, and there were rats and mice in the building and in the alleys.

Charlotte Silver said her memories of childhood were of always waiting. She was a child, mature beyond her years, associating with restaurant staff, not other children. She was a child of divorce, and a child of a mother who spent more time with her restaurant than she did with her daughter. Although she looks back with nostalgia at those twenty years before the restaurant closed, it struck me as a sad life. She cried when the restaurant died, a last remnant of the 20th century. I saw it as closure to a childhood lost and lonely.

Charlotte au Chocolat is a true insider's look into the restaurant business, as seen by a child who grew up in it. She may not have known the restaurant numbers, but she knew the waiters, the cooks, the places to hide, the difference between the kitchen and the front room. It's an interesting book, but, in the end, I found it to be a sad book, a story of a young girl, whose father walked out, whose mother was too busy, and whose only true home, a restaurant, wasn't even a place that welcomed her. Charlotte Silver would be willing to go back and appreciate it now. Charlotte au Chocolat struck me as too sad to ever want to go back.

Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver. Riverhead Books. ©2012. ISBN 9781594488153 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me this to review, at my request.


bermudaonion said...

I've really been looking forward to this book and didn't realize it's sad.

Lesa said...

That's just my impression, Kathy. I hope you read it, and let me know what you think. I'm not sure the author even meant it to be sad. That's just how it came across to me.

Beth Hoffman said...

I'm not one to read non-fiction very often, but there's something about this that has piqued my interest. Terrific review, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Beth! Hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it.

Sue Farrell said...

Strange how so many people think that just becuase you own a business that you are "rich". I can remember people that didn't pay my parents after they allowed them to charge for purchases and would say they weren't paying becuase we didn't need the money. Little did those people know about the real business world.

Karen C said...

It does sound like a sad story, but I'd be interested in reading it - I just want to know more!

Elizabeth Benedict said...

Gosh, I don't think of Charlotte au Chocolat as SAD but as beautifully written, funny, witty, MOVING, and real. I loved every page, every sentence!! I've already bought 3 copies to give as gifts, and I imagine I will be buying many more!

Lesa said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! That's why I love to get readers' comments. Everyone has a different take on books, and it's nice to read what you said. Thank you!