A Covert Affair: Julia and Paula Child in the OSS
by Jennet Conant
(Simon & Schuster, $28) ISBN 978-1-4391-6352-8
****
A Covert Affair opens on April 7, 1955 when Julia Child's husband, Paul, is summoned by cable to return to Washington for consultation with his employer the State Department. Julia and Paul were living in Bonn, having been transferred from France some six months earlier. Paul is now in the USIS and employed as a "visual presenter" which worked well with his hobbies of photography, writing and painting.

Upon arrival in Washington, to his dismay Paul finds he is being investigated. Senator Joseph McCarthy had erupted onto the US scene on February 9, 1950 with the announcement of his crusade to rid government employees suspected of being members of the Communist Party. From afar Julia and Paul had watched as friends and acquaintance had borne the brunt of these investigations. Paul finds himself now a suspect by his own employers.

During his interrogation, the FBI's attention is mainly focused on Paulís relationship with Jane Foster, a friend made while serving in the OSS in Asia during World War II. He is eventually cleared and permitted to return to Europe with a record that was no doubt tainted by the investigation.

The story proceeds, flashing back to the fall of 1943 in the early days of the OSS. Paul Child at that time was apparently already in Asia, when Julia McWilliams, Betty McCormick and Jane Foster were headed abroad as new recruits in the OSS. Almost half the book is devoted to their experiences in Asian arenas during the rest of the war. Most of the attention is devoted to Jane Foster, a wealthy, undisciplined party girl with a keen mind. All too brief references are made to the developing romantic relationship between Paul Child and Julia as they evolve from working cohorts to man and wife a couple years after they had been repatriated to the US.

Jane Foster had been asked to stay behind and evaluate some of the countriesí nationalist furor upon the surrender of the Japanese. Particularly important was her assessment of Indonesia's Sukarno as that country sought to rid itself of the Dutch dominance. Her position there as it had been in other countries was that freedom from the Japanese should also embrace freedom from their "colonial occupiers."

This was an unpopular position in the United States as our country was post war busy forming coalitions with these same Dutch, French and English governments to present a united front against communism. Jane presented her findings to state department people, including even Dean Acheson. This paper, together with her casual indifference to sobriety and wise choice in friends, was to factor heavily in the FBI's investigation of her.

The author no doubt relies upon material from Foster's FBI file of some 60,000 pages as she relates the intricate web that Foster became enmeshed in while living in Paris about the same time as Paul and Julia. Jane was married to George Zlatkovski, whose family had moved from Russia in 1922.

Readers interested solely in Julia and Paul Child will be disappointed in the paucity of coverage. However, if willing to be enlightened about the work of the OSS in Ceylon and Kumming, entwined with a realistic portrayal of the impact of the McCarthy prosecutions in the 1950s, then the read is worthwhile.

--Thea Davis


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