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A young man's close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become "ghachar ghochar"--a nonsense phrase uttered by one meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can't be untied. Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings--and consequences--of financial gain in contemporary India.
A first novel by the author of the short story collection,Arranged Marriage,The Mistress of Spices is a mystical tale told by Tilo, a young Indian woman in an old woman's body who has been trained in the secret powers of spices. Her special knowledge leads her to Oakland, California where she uses it to help the local Indian community by opening a spice shop from which she administers spices as curatives. Tilo can see into people's hearts and minds but it is a mistress's duty to keep herself at a distance, "not too far nor too near, in calm kindness poised." However, Tilo is unable to obey her charge, and she becomes emotionally involved with her customers as they struggle with the demands of their families, the clash of the old way versus the American way, racism, abusive husbands-all of the complexities of living in the modern world.
The three Aminpour sisters escape the Iranian Revolution and make their way west to a small Irish village. There they pursue a well-worn path to assimilation by taking over an abandoned Italian bakery and opening the Babylon Cafe. It takes a while to win over the insular townsfolk, but they manage to make a success of their restaurant, charming even the local priest. They never do span the gulf separating them from Thomas McGuire, owner of the town pub, who sees the sisters as business rivals as much as cultural aliens. The smells of cardamom, fenugreek, and saffron wafting over the town lure locals away from McGuire's bland pub fare, so he plots to shutter their interloping restaurant. To give the reader a better appreciation for the pivotal role of food in the novel, Mehran includes recipes for some Iranian specialties: stuffed grape leaves, elephant ear pastries, and the title's pomegranate soup. Stark contrasts between the sisters' lives in Iran and Ireland and between the Irish and Persian cultures energize Mehran's tale. --Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2005 Booklist
"A sweet and savory treat." --People "An impressive feat of narrative jujitsu. . . that keeps readers turning the pages too fast to realize just how ingenious they are."--The New York Times Book Review, Editor's Pick "Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a terrific reminder of what can be wrested from suffering and struggle - not only success, but also considerable irony, a fair amount of wisdom and a decent meal."--Jane Smiley, The Guardian As seen on The Skimm: "Warning: this will make you hungry. . . . You won't be able to put it down. And it will up your kitchen game." Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country's most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer's most hotly-anticipated debut. When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine--and a dashing sommelier--he's left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He's determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter--starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva's journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that's a testament to her spirit and resilience. Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life--its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.
Thirty-three-year-old Julia Daniel doesn't really feel at home anywhere. Her life in L.A. is lonely, and her career as a food stylist for a struggling gourmet magazine falls well short of her desire to be a photographer. Although she liked growing up in Kentucky, ever since her mother's death and her father's remarriage, her birthplace hasn't felt like the right fit either. After the tragic deaths of her father and stepmother in a plane crash, Julia's true odyssey begins. Orphaned and adrift, she tries to find her way in the world while fending off a crazy boss, a pilfering stepsister, and a looming depression. Though shored up by two good friends and an excellent psychologist who helps her work through her grief, it is an unexpected-and comically disastrous-trip to Sedona for the magazine that finally enables Julia to move forward. Returning to L.A., she searches for the strength to strike out on her own, take a chance on love, and seek a tentative peace with her wayward stepsister. Both humorous and heartbreaking, "Blue Plate Special" serves up an uplifting exploration of the courage it takes to embrace life after loss.
"[He] came to us through an advertisement that I had in desperation put in the newspaper. It began captivatingly for those days: 'Two American ladies wish . . .' " It was these lines in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book that inspired The Book of Salt, a brilliant first novel by acclaimed Vietnamese American writer Monique Truong. In Paris, in 1934, Bính has accompanied his employers, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, to the train station for their departure to America. His own destination is unclear: will he go with "the Steins," stay in France, or return to his native Vietnam? Bính has fled his homeland in disgrace, leaving behind his malevolent charlatan of a father and his self-sacrificing mother. For five years, he has been the live-in cook at the famous apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus. Before Bính's decision is revealed, his mesmerizing narrative catapults us back to his youth in French-colonized Vietnam, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out fragrant repasts for the doyennes of the Lost Generation. Bính knows far more than the contents of the Steins' pantry: he knows their routines and intimacies, their manipulations and follies. With wry insight, he views Stein and Toklas ensconced in blissful domesticity. But is Bính's account reliable? A lost soul, he is a late-night habitué of the Paris demimonde, an exile and an alien, a man of musings and memories, and, possibly, lies. Love is the prize that has eluded him, from his family to the men he has sought out in his far-flung journeys, often at his peril. Intricate, compelling, and witty, the novel weaves in historical characters, from Stein and Toklas to Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh, with remarkable originality. Flavors, seas, sweat, tears -- The Book of Salt is an inspired feast of storytelling riches.