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BOOK REVIEW:

The autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were originals, as individual people and as a couple. They did not strive to be different or unique, they just were. As a couple they even debunk what might be perceived as their traditional roles in a relationship with Gertrude Stein, the writer, poet and creator with Alice B. Toklas as a factotum who supported the great artist and took care of the household and cooking. It is not quite the whole story. They were stereotyped, and for the uninformed not to be taken seriously. At one time, Gertrude Stein was gratuitously known for one line from a long poem, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Alice B. Toklas was known for her bird-like appearance, a moustache and always being overshadowed by Gertrude Stein’s appearance.  There is a good deal more substance to the written works of Gertrude Stein, which can be found here, and more to their individual lives and relationship as revealed in this book and in books by Alice B. Toklas. Each woman was able to hold their own and have respect for the other one's thoughts and opinions, in this very loving, long relationship. They were way ahead of their time and place, and today would probably have ideas that none of us could even begin to imagine. This autobiography turns on itself, being written by Gertrude Stein as she thinks Alice B. Toklas would write her own life's story. Their automobiles were given personal names and anthropomorphized. They lived in France during World War I and World War II. By their own creation, it was a very big universe that surrounded them, with nascent visual artists, writers, dancers, architects and musicians who were part of the salon hosted at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, France, that included problems, alliances, betrayals and innovations, and good food. It was a panoply of those whose contributions have had universal importance and influence.  A partial list of names on the book jacket includes Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Guillaume Apollinaire, Juan Gris, Isadora Duncan, Georges Braques, William James, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Pablo Casals, Andrew Green, Igor Stravinsky and more, more, more ... In this most recent format of Toklas' autobiography, originally published in 1933, Maira Kalman's vibrant illustrations might very well have been appreciated by both women. In an afterword, Maira Kalman speculates that maybe it was Alice who wrote her autobiography and not Gertrude. As a couple their lives were so intertwined, and as Kalman states, "Nothing would have happened without Alice. NO THING."

Alice B. Toklas definitely oversaw the maintenance of the couple's various homes, either cooking or supervising servants who cooked and kept house. She was not without humor, and in fact she will catch you off guard with some dry witty assessment of a person, their tastes in food, or other aspects of someone's life. Her observations are candid and fresh. Jeremiah Tower has the highest regard forThe Alice B. Toklas Cook book, which at one time was infamous for a particular recipe, Haschich Fudge, "which anyone could whip up on a rainy day." As Toklas states, "Before coming to Paris, I was interested in food, but not in doing any cooking." In 1908 when she went to Paris to live with Gertrude Stein, and Stein was weary of French and Italian cooking, Toklas was asked to prepare simple dishes for Sunday-evening supper. The recipes are for experienced cooks because they are written in a narrative format. The table of contents has some title grabbers: Murder in the Kitchen; Servants in France; Food in the Bugey During the Occupation and more. Her descriptions of food and delight in their taste are notably vivid, with certain ingredients providing "an ineffable flavour".

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