Book review: There Are No Grown-Ups

The author of 'French Children Don’t Throw Food' has now written a 40s life-guide for women


You know the author by her titles, even if you didn’t read her best-seller. French Children Don’t Throw Food appeared five years ago and explained how this Florida mom (Druckerman) and her husband and fellow journalist (Simon Kuper), raising three kids as bons petits Parisiens, found they turned out not only remarkably well-behaved but also the right size (at least partly by eating their healthy French meals).

This one — let’s keep it brief and refer to it as TANGU — is intended to do for mid-lifers what her first did for their offspring. More specifically, for female forty-somethings, under the microscope as the simultaneusly have-it-all and supposedly most fraught-of-all decade. TANGU opens with a relevant, if unexpected, warning from Catholic poet Charles Péguy: “Forty is a fearsome age. It’s the age when we become who we are”.

A scatter-gun approach is adopted across the ensuing 250 pages. They cover self-help wisdom gleaned from US academic papers on such topics as “Emotional Regulation” and “The Suffocation Model”; interviews with potential role models in Elle magazine and excerpts from Simone de Beauvoir; Druckerman’s own family tree, the forties apparently prompting a historical turn of mind, referencing family albums and memories across a century, pursuing the ancestral journey from Minsk to Miami; plus personal faux-pas arising from Anglo-French double-entendres and exacerbated by what daughter Leila labels her mom’s shortfall of joie de vivre.

Back in the last century I remember a similar experience of living in Paris, being greeted with bonjour, mademoiselle. As a married 21-year-old with a child, I naturally expected to be called madame. Not so, however I might flash my wedding ring. Finally, the greengrocer explained: “It is not up to you but to us how we address you. Believe me, you should take mademoiselle as a compliment and quit protesting”.

I did. Interestingly, it was again a French friend who corroborated my reaction to turning 40. Weary of being told to avert later regrets by catching up on missed experiences, I finally snapped and replied I was too busy regretting some experiences indulged, now wishing I hadn’t. She alone proffered the necessary understanding and solidarity. TANGU offers it too, in the spirit of much-needed entente cordiale in these days of Brexit. It comes with handy check-lists and plenty on the topic for which the French expertise is renowned. Sex, of course, but also on how to become a femme libre. And that’s a role that can last way beyond our 40s.

Amanda Hopkinson is a writer, translator and founder of PEN’s writers in translation programme

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive