Francine du Plessix Gray and Sorrel Soup

Vasily Rudich and Gabriella De Ferrari in The Paris Review:

By her own account, writing wasn’t easy for Francine du Plessix Gray, who died last Sunday at the age of eighty-eight. As she told Regina Weinreich in her 1987 Art of Fiction interview, “I’ve always had a terrifically painful ambivalence of love and terror towards the act of writing.” But this doesn’t come through in her fearless books, such as the novel Lovers and Tyrants, a semiautobiographical account of her childhood, and Them, an unsparing look at her tyrannical parents. She was born in 1930 at the French embassy in Warsaw, but after her father died in 1940, Gray and her mother emigrated to America. Gray arrived in the country knowing not a lick of English; fourteen months later, she won the school spelling bee.

…When Francine lived in her house in Connecticut, she loved to entertain her friends. Her dinners were small, and dotted with members of the local intellectual community. I was lucky enough to be invited to several. Francine envisioned herself a great cook. She was not. One of her favorite dishes to make was sorrel soup. She grew the sorrel in her garden and was very proud of it. The soup was dark green, creamy and bitter. Her enthusiasm for it was such that we all ate it quietly and fast. She insisted on seconds. As with everything else in her life: if she loved it, you were to love it, too. In the last years of Francine’s life, she  left her house in Warren to be near her sons and doctors. She moved to a small, rather dark apartment in New York City.  She insisted on filling the new apartment with as much of her furniture as possible. Her friend Peter Vaughn, who helped her move, stuffed in as much as he could. On the walls, she placed beautiful photographs of herself in her younger days. She greeted you in that apartment the way a princess would greet you: as if in a palace. She made the best of everything, and she made the best of this too. I so admired that about her. Not too long ago, I invited Francine to the opera.  I believe it was Aida.  A few minutes after the opera began, she fell asleep. After each intermission, and at the end of the show, she proclaimed it to have been a great cast and a great production. I never told her she slept through the whole thing. When I had dinner at her apartment in New York, she never spoke of sorrel. She no longer cooked, and we ate takeout. She must have missed the sorrel, but she never complained. Her emotions were hers alone. I hope they serve sorrel soup in heaven.

More here.