The Belly of Paris
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This gem, plucked from Emile Zola's sprawling multi-volume saga of an extended French family's fortunes during the 19th-century, has long entranced food lovers with its vivid portrayals of life in and around Paris's famed Les Halles markets. Food is not so much a theme of the novel as it is a means by which Zola explores the tensions in French society between rich and poor, liberal and conservative, the old and the new.
This fluid and absorbing translation by the food historian Mark Kurlansky, who is perhaps best known for Cod, includes Kurlansky's rich and very helpful introduction, providing context for readers who may have largely romantic notions of the Paris that was emerging from the social turmoil that fascinated Zola. While there have been numerous other editions of this novel (the French title of which is Le Ventre de Paris), we think that Kurlansky's translation has proven itself to be the one most in touch with the culinary and political strains of the book.