This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be sharing book recommendations – a series of “not just cookbooks”.
Disclosure: I received an advance, uncorrected proof of the e-book from the publisher. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. This blog post was not reviewed by the publisher prior to publishing. All opinions 100% my own.
This week’s Summer Reads pick is a journey into the depths of a Paris most of us won’t be familiar with – the restaurant kitchen, through the eyes of a waiter.
Right at the centre of this giant wheel that is Paris is the Bistrot de la Seine. A microcosm of the city, of the country as it is today. Replete with a defined social hierarchy cemented neatly in place by the physical layout of the restaurant. On the surface all is light, but the deeper one travels, the darker things become.
From the publisher:
Inspired by George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, A Waiter in Paris is a brilliant portrait of the underbelly of contemporary Paris through the eyes of a young waiter scraping out a living in the City of Light.
A waiter’s job is to deceive you. They want you to believe in a luxurious calm because on the other side of that door … is hell.
Edward Chisholm’s spellbinding memoir of his time as a Parisian waiter takes you below the surface of one of the most iconic cities in the world and right into its glorious underbelly. There, Chisholm inhabits a world of inhuman hours, snatched sleep, and dive bars. He scrapes by on coffee, bread, and cigarettes, often working under sadistic managers, for a wage so low he’s forced to fight his colleagues for tips. And these colleagues — thieves, narcissists, ex-Legionnaires, paperless immigrants, wannabe actors, and drug dealers — are the closest thing he has to family.
Waiting tables is physically demanding work, frequently humiliating, and incredibly competitive. But it doesn’t matter because you’re in Paris, the centre of the universe, and there’s nowhere else you’d rather be in the world.
If you’ve ever been to Paris and you’ve eaten in a restaurant, you’ll likely have no idea what goes on behind the kitchen door but there’s a whole other world there with its own hierarchy and rules that, unless you really understand how it works, can be impossible to break into (especially as a foreigner). This book lifts the curtain on all that in a gritty, utterly fascinating tale of a whole other world!
Edward Chisholm arrives in Paris with very little money or French language and basically fakes his way into a job at a fancy restaurant in Paris to make ends meet. The start of the book is painful as he doesn’t really understand what the job entails (or, if indeed, he has a job or not, such are his language skills!) and then once he starts working, there is a whole hierarchical system he has to learn along with the job and the language.
Chisholm is an evocative writer – you can see and smell the scenes he depicts – and he brings you along for the (sometimes very uncomfortable) ride as he learns the ropes, figures things out, and makes a lot of mistakes – culturally, professionally, and linguistically – along the way. Resourceful doesn’t cut it when thinking about a way to describe him – he’s that but also determined, strong-willed, smart and a fighter who slowly works his way up the ranks from “runner” to fully-fledged waiter. If you’re looking for glowing Paris descriptions and Instagram moments, this is not that book (though glorious Paris and Paris moments do pepper the book, briefly). If you’re looking for a book that shows you real life in the service industry that is key to the tourism industry in one of the most touristy places in the world, you’ll eat this up (pun intended)!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it was sometimes hard to read – not in terms of the way it’s written but it’s a HARD life these people live and so, not your typical “City of Light” light summer read! It’s completely fascinating to learn about the society that exists behind closed restaurant doors and Chisholm shares this world elegantly, honestly and vividly. An EXCELLENT read (for summer or anytime!).
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