"The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle." Paul Rayment, a p...more"The blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle." Paul Rayment, a photographer in Adelaide, finds himself in a hospital recovering from a bicycle accident, with one leg amputated above the knee. He refuses a prosthesis and opts for nursing care. After going through a succession of nurses, he develops feelings for a Croatian nurse, Marijana, a married woman with three children. In addition to his loss of independence and the problems of aging, Paul is coping with loneliness and regrets over never having children. He attempts to have Marijana and her children play a major part of his life.
The first third of the novel seems realistic. Then the novelist Elizabeth Costello shows up at Paul's door, an annoying woman who he has never met. (She is a character from J.M. Coetzee's previous novel.) She starts reciting the passage at the top of this review, "The blow catches him..." When she first heard those words, she had asked herself, "Why do I need this man?" Elizabeth Costello seems to be a stand-in for the author Coetzee since she knows all about Paul and the other characters. She uses her knowledge to try to prod Paul into action. At the same time, Paul is feeling that she is using his reactions to create a character for a book that she is writing. She's a persistent woman, constantly visiting, although he keeps trying to get rid of her. Paul, who immigrated from France to Australia as a child, is working through his feelings about home, about belonging, and about love. After a career as a portrait photographer, Paul seems to be thinking about who the man in his own mirror is as a person.
The reader is watching Elizabeth Costello interact with Paul as she gets material for the story that Coetzee has written and we are reading. While it's a creative idea, it also moves the story from a realistic plane to a position where the reader no longer knows what is real and what is unreal. But that's Coetzee--an author who has fun playing around with the readers' minds.(less)
3.5-4 stars The mouths of foodies will be watering as they read this novel about the fictional Hassan Haji's life. After his family's restaurant was de...more3.5-4 stars The mouths of foodies will be watering as they read this novel about the fictional Hassan Haji's life. After his family's restaurant was destroyed in Mumbai, his father took the family to Europe to distance himself from the tragedy. A few years later, their car breaks down in the French village of Lumiere, a beautiful setting near the Alps, and they decide to stay.
Hassan's bearlike, boisterous father opens a casual Indian restaurant across the street from the award-winning Le Saule Pleureur, owned by Madame Mallory. The two colorful restaurant owners wage war until an accident lands Hassan in the hospital. Madame Mallory regrets her attitude, and takes Hassan on as an apprentice in her elegant French restaurant. Hassan crosses the road in a "hundred-foot journey" from Indian to fine French cuisine. This is the beginning of an exciting career for Hassan who was born with an exceptional culinary gift.
The story was infused with the smells and sights of both the Indian and French kitchens. Temperamental chefs are a source of humor in the story. Food critics and the Michelin star system add immense pressure to the job of a chef. Although I would love to fly to Paris for a restaurant tour, I think I will have to settle for seeing the movie based on this charming book. The movie, starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, and Manish Dayal, will be opening in August 2014.(less)
Alma and Arturo Rivera traveled from Mexico to settle in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, and furnished it with items found on the side of t...moreAlma and Arturo Rivera traveled from Mexico to settle in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, and furnished it with items found on the side of the road. Although they were happy in Mexico, Arturo obtained a work visa so that their daughter Maribel could attend an American school for children with special needs. The beautiful fifteen-year-old girl had a fall that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.
Their neighbors, the Toro family, offer them friendship and encouragement. The Toros were legal immigrants from Panama who had become American citizens. Mayor Toro is a teenager lacking in self-confidence and overshadowed by his older athletic brother. A budding romance forms between Mayor and Maribel. The two teenagers accept each other for what they are, and form a connection.
The chapters of the book are told in first person mainly by Alma Rivera and Mayor Toro. Through Alma's voice we are shown how much parents will sacrifice in the hope of making a better life for their children, and how much love she feels for Arturo. Alma feels homesick, isolated, and is trying to protect her disabled daughter. She is unable to communicate in English, only has a bus for transportation, finds unfamiliar food in the stores, and is living in poverty. Mayor is caught between the American world at school, and the traditions of his parents at home. His tender love for Maribel leads to unintended heartbreaking consequences.
The apartment building houses other families from Latin American countries. The other immigrants' stories are told in short chapters, breaking up the main story about the Riveras and the Toros. While their stories give the book a more complete look at the immigrant experience, it does sometimes break the flow of the compelling main story. One heartwarming chapter had all the families come to the Toro apartment on Christmas to share a meal, and try to keep warm when the heating system was down for a few hours. The Paraguayan landlord says, "I like it here. I started off as the manager, but now I own the building....I try to make this building like an island for all of us washed-ashore refugees. A safe harbor. I don't let anyone mess with me. If people want to tell me to go home, I just turn to them and smile politely and say, 'I'm already there.'"
The characters in the Rivera and the Toro families seemed very real, and I cared about their outcomes. The book is food for thought about the immigrant experience, so it would be an excellent choice for book discussion groups. (less)
Delicious! is a light, fun, fictional book that should appeal to foodies. The framing story involves Billie Breslin, a young woman with a discerning p...moreDelicious! is a light, fun, fictional book that should appeal to foodies. The framing story involves Billie Breslin, a young woman with a discerning palate, who starts a job as the assistant to the editor of Delicious! magazine in Manhattan. A beautiful historic mansion holds the offices of the food magazine (which is similar to Gourmet magazine where Ruth Reichl served as the editor.) In addition to writing food articles, Billie is responsible for manning a recipe hotline. The magazine guarantees that their readers will be happy with the recipes, or they will refund the price of the ingredients. Billie also works part-time at a family-run Italian deli that sells artisan cheeses and meats. She is mentored by a diverse group of people who introduce her to new food adventures. Sibling issues, a fashion makeover, and a love interest add to the story.
After the food magazine closes its doors, Billie stays on longer working the recipe hotline. With another former employee, Billie explores the wonderful culinary library in the old mansion. They find old letters written by Lulu, a 12-year-old girl, to James Beard during World War II. Lulu seeks advice about foraging for food, and recipes to use during wartime food rationing. She also shares her fears about her pilot father who has been shot down in Europe, and her mother who is working long hours at an aircraft factory. Lulu's problems seemed very real, and her letters were my favorite part of the book. Billie travels to Ohio to see if she can locate Lulu and see how her life progressed.
The book is a combination of interesting information about food, lovely wartime letters, and a "fluffy" contemporary mystery/romance. It was a quick, enjoyable book that would be a good vacation read.(less)
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a tale that will charm book lovers and book sellers. A. J. Fikry is the depressed, recently widowed owner of an ind...moreThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a tale that will charm book lovers and book sellers. A. J. Fikry is the depressed, recently widowed owner of an independent bookstore on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. His sales are down, and a valuable first edition book has been stolen. His life changes when someone leaves a precious bundle in the bookstore for him.
The setting is wonderful--a quaint little bookstore full of good literature. The author weaves in situations involving the book-selling business, book clubs, and a humorous author visit. Each chapter is prefaced by a letter recommending a book, usually a short story, a way for A. J. to pass down his love of books. The story is heartwarming, humorous, romantic, and sad with a bit of a fairy tale feel to it. I was sorry to have this engaging story come to an end.(less)