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A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS | [Jennet Conant]

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

Best-selling author Jennet Conant brings us a stunning account of Julia and Paul Child's experiences as members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the Far East during World War II. She also details the tumultuous years when they were caught up in the McCarthy Red spy hunt in the 1950s and behaved with bravery and honor. It is a fascinating portrait of a group of idealistic men and women who were recruited by the citizen spy service, slapped into uniform, and dispatched to wage political warfare.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Jennet Conant has written about a complex woman whose personal magnetism propelled her from a privileged background onto a journey of political and personal adventure — but her name isn’t Julia Child. The real star of this book is Jane Foster, while the two names on the cover are drawn to her flame, which ultimately proves to be as destructive as it is alluring.

A Covert Affair serves several functions, not least of which is to illuminate the bitter post-World War II history of Western involvement in the Far East. The story of European colonial interference and the U.S. compromises in this time and place is a fascinating one, and all the more so in this book for being filtered through the secret history of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), and in particular the role played by brilliant young women recruited from the Ivy League. They learn how to forge incriminating documents and plan elaborate subterfuges, all the while facing male condescension (“all women in the OSS were ‘girls’, regardless of their age, rank, or responsibilities,” notes Conant). Against this backdrop, Julia McWilliams falls for Paul Child, a not-altogether sympathetic operative besotted, like so many others, with Jane. In fact, Conant argues that it was a conscious attempt on Julia’s behalf to ape Jane Foster’s potent charisma that transformed her own character into the more familiar personality known to us today.

The book comes into its own as the larkish tone of the early chapters (Jane worried about appearing like “just another wealthy dilettante” — and you’d be forgiven for agreeing with her assessment) gives way to a more darker portrayal of Jane’s growing disillusionment with her government’s foreign policy, accusing them very publicly of breaking their promises to the peoples of the region and kowtowing to European interests. Her dark trajectory leads to accusations of spying for the Russians, returning the narrative to its opening focus on the McCarthy trials, which also ensnares the Childs. Conant, meanwhile, effortlessly interweaves less fraught moments such as Julia’s discovery of French cuisine.

Throughout the book, the depth and breadth of Conant’s research is astounding. She has extracted real, palpable life from letters, diaries, and — as she reveals in the appendix — recently decoded and declassified documents, allowing her to write about history with a novelist’s eye for detail. Stage veteran Jan Maxwell knows how to convey this mass of information without overwhelming us, speaking with a consistent tone that is as clear and precise as a stenograph. Her dedicated seriousness can border on the earnest, and her performance carries none of the sheer fun of the young Julia and Jane. But it is a worthy performance — she delivers book’s combination of biography, romance, history, and geopolitics, and fully honors Conant’s admirable detective work. —Dafydd Phillips

Publisher's Summary

Best-selling author Jennet Conant brings us a stunning account of Julia and Paul Child's experiences as members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the Far East during World War II. She also details the tumultuous years when they were caught up in the McCarthy Red spy hunt in the 1950s and behaved with bravery and honor. It is a fascinating portrait of a group of idealistic men and women who were recruited by the citizen spy service, slapped into uniform, and dispatched to wage political warfare in remote outposts in Ceylon, India, and China.

The eager, inexperienced 6-foot, 2-inch Julia springs to life in these pages, a gangly golf-playing California girl who had never been farther abroad than Tijuana. Single and 30 years old when she joined the staff of Colonel William Donovan, Julia volunteered to be part of the OSS's ambitious mission to develop a secret intelligence network across Southeast Asia.

©2011 Jennet Conant (P)2011 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"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." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.2 (39 )
5 star
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3.8 (28 )
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Performance
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  •  
    PHYLLIS ABRAMS STUDIO CITY, CA, US 04-16-12
    PHYLLIS ABRAMS STUDIO CITY, CA, US 04-16-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    33
    1
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Performance
    Story
    "bait and switch"
    What would have made A Covert Affair better?

    shame on you the title had nothing to do with the book what a scam


    What could Jennet Conant have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    not lie


    Any additional comments?

    i want my money back

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mari 12-24-11
    Mari 12-24-11

    Mari

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
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    0
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    Story
    "Deceptive Title-Book Not about Paul & Julia Child"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    No, because it wasn't about Julia Child in the OSS.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    It was an interesting account of the 1950's McCarthy witch hunts.
    Least interesting was the account of life in Paris.


    What does Jan Maxwell bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    French pronunciation.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    A disappointing read. 98 % of the book was about Jane Foster. Paul and Julia were merely footnotes to her story.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marsha Orem, UT, United States 11-02-11
    Marsha Orem, UT, United States 11-02-11 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Julia and Paul?? Not in this book"

    I have to agree with the other reviewer, this book has a misleading title. There are bits and pieces about Julia and Paul but this book is not about them. Its about some rich lady named Jane who comes into the book when Paul is hauled into the McCarthy questioning and then never leaves and becomes the main character in the book. I've not completed listening to this book and at this point I doubt I will. I didn't want to read a story about a rich kid, her clothes and affairs she had while working for the OSS during WWII. I wanted to read about Julia and Paul Child. So disappointing. I'm going to give it a few more chapters if it doesn't return to Julia and Paul it'll be removed from my iPod.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gene Grahamsville, NY, United States 06-10-11
    Gene Grahamsville, NY, United States 06-10-11 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Misleading title"

    This book uses Julia Child's name to deliver a personal tyrade about someone else who was a member of the OSS with the Childs. One is constantly asking oneself..."What does this have to do with Julia Child?" There was alomst nothing about Julia in the book at all.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Loretta 06-01-13
    Loretta 06-01-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    121
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    "Also disappointed"

    I have to agree with the review titled "bait & switch" - the book was mostly about Jane Foster with the Childs a footnote to the story. After the first chapter, which tells of Mr. Child's summons to the HUAC inquest, the other references to the Childs seem to be in the "Gee I better mention them since their name is in the title" realm of thought. There was a little on their courtship, and inclusion of the Childs marriage was an afterthought. "Oh yeah, they got married a few years before.." The rest was pretty much Jane Jane Jane, which didn't seem necessary, since apparently Jane wrote her own darn book before she died. Egad!

    Ms. Maxwell's performance was okay and pleasant to listen to, so I did stick with it - all the while hoping the story would come back around to fulfill the promise of the title.

    I've had other books that I've not liked, but this is the first audible book that I've felt cheated with. For that reason, I would say "Buyer Beware!" before recommending it. Anyway... there are plenty of books that I have loved and will love, so I'm moving on.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Juanita Kennedy 08-24-13 Member Since 2012

    Say something about yourself!

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Interesting, but not really about the Childs"
    Any additional comments?

    I didn't really know anything about the OSS, so I enjoyed learning about the organization and their role in the war. I also really liked the story of the people the author chose to highlight, and the parts about the McCarthy era are disturbing. However, the main subject of the book is the Childs' friend, not Paul & Julia themselves, so the title is a little misleading. I was a little disappointed in this - I picked the book to learn more about this aspect of Julia Child's life. However, I was definitely engrossed by the time I figured this out, so I kept listening!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    carolyn 06-15-13
    carolyn 06-15-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Bait and switch!"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    This book has little to do with Julia and Paul Child, and I found that disappointing. The main focus is on a woman whom they knew in the OSS who was quite a character and interesting, but the title and cover had led me to believe I'd learn more about the work both of them did.

    The book is rich in detail of the OSS work, at least in how women were allowed to perform it during the war. It also paints an interesting portrait of post-war paranoia rooted in the Red scare, and offers explanations via examples of how the U.S. executed its Southeast Asian policies as the region's colonial empires collapsed.

    But when you are expecting to hear more about the Childs, it was a shock!


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-7 of 7 results
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  • R. Bragner
    Turkey
    9/17/12
    Overall
    "This book is not about Julia Child and Paul Child"

    At least 80% percent of the book is about an OSS colleague of the Childs, Jane Foster:a drunken, flighty, trust-fund- supported party girl who was also an American Communist and spied for the Soviets. Where the Childs are mentioned at all it's to state their impressions of Foster.



    Stay away.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-1 of 1 results

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