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The Mouse-Proof Kitchen

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A deeply moving debut novel about a couple’s struggle to love and accept their disabled child and keep their family together.

Anna is a planner. So when she discovers she’s pregnant, she prepares for a perfect new life in Provençe, France, with her perfect new baby-to-be. Anna’s partner, the easy-going Tobias, shouldn’t have too much difficulty tagging along—after all, he’s a musician who rarely starts his day before noon. But all that changes when their baby is born severely disabled.

Anna, Tobias, and their daughter, Freya, end up in a rickety, rodent-infested farmhouse in a remote town in France—far from the mansion in Provençe they had imagined. Little do they know that this is the beginning of what will become an incredible journey of the heart—one during which they learn there really is no such thing as a mouse-proof kitchen. Life is messy, and it’s the messy bits that make it count.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published April 4, 2013

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About the author

Saira Shah

12 books32 followers
Writer, reporter, and documentary film maker, Shah is daughter of Afghan author Idries Shah and sibling to Tahir Shah and Safia Shah. She is named after her grandmother, Scottish writer Saira Elizabeth Luiza Shah, who wrote as Morag Murray Abdullah.

Her film credits include Beneath the Veil, Death in Gaza, and Unholy War.

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5 stars
215 (17%)
4 stars
491 (39%)
3 stars
381 (30%)
2 stars
129 (10%)
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32 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 224 reviews
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,378 reviews7,089 followers
February 10, 2014
Such a believable, heartbreaking read. Who knows what life's gonna throw at us, and how we'll cope. Would we do any better than Anna and Tobias? I doubt it. A really interesting read.
Profile Image for Nikoleta.
680 reviews274 followers
December 14, 2015
Το βιβλίο αυτό μου προκαλεί ανάμεικτα συναισθήματα. Η ροή της αφήγησης κυλάει αρμονικά, με την γλώσσα να είναι λυρική, με πανέμορφες περιγραφές για την φύση, τους ανθρώπους και τη ζωή στην Γαλλική ύπαιθρο, που δίνουν στο βιβλίο μια αίσθηση παραμυθένια, παρόλο που το στόρι δείχνει την σκληρή πλευρά της καθημερινής ζωής του ζευγαριού.
Αυτό που δεν συμπάθησα στιγμή είναι οι κεντρικοί ήρωες. Ο Τομπάιας είναι ένας από τους ποιο απωθητικούς ήρωες που έχω ποτέ διαβάσει. Τεμπέλης εγωκεντρικός κακομαθημένος και ανώριμος. Στην αρχή του βιβλίου φανταζόμουν ότι τον πυροβολώ στα 5 μέτρα και μέχρι την μέση του βιβλίου είχα φτάσει στο σημείο να τον ανατινάζω με ΤΝΤ. Η Άννα … τι να πω για αυτήν; Είναι απλώς ηλίθια!
Δεν μου κάνει εντύπωση που η συγγραφέας στις «Σημειώσεις και ευχαριστίες» στο τέλος του βιβλίου δεν ξεχνά να αναφέρει τα εξής:
«Περιττό να αναφέρω ότι οι πράξεις μου ποτέ δεν ήταν παρόμοιες με της Άννας και του Τομπάιας, που πήραν την δική τους ζωή και δεν άργησαν να με αιφνιδιάσουν, υιοθετώντας μια σκανδαλώδη συμπεριφορά.»
Οι δεύτεροι χαρακτήρες είναι όλοι τους (με εξαίρεση τη Λίζι που είναι ζώον) καταπληκτικοί. Ο λόγος που δεν κατέληξα στο συμπέρασμα ότι η συγγραφέας εννοούσε όλο τον παραλογισμό στη συμπεριφορά του κεντρικού ζευγαριού και ότι πιθανότατα έχει μεγαλώσει σε μια παράλογη κοινωνία κάπου στα βάθη του Αμαζονίου, είναι οι δεύτεροι χαρακτήρες. Όλοι τους με την σειρά τους είναι ενθαρρυντικοί, υποστηρικτικοί και λογικοί. Δεν είναι τυχαίο που όλοι τους έχουν πει έστω μια φορά στο βιβλίο την ατάκα «Μα τι σου συμβαίνει επιτέλους;»
Όσον αφορά το μωρούλι την Φρεγια, έχω την εντύπωση ότι δεν ήταν αυτή που προκάλεσε τα προβλήματα, αλλά αυτή που τα έφερε στην επιφάνεια. Το γεγονός ότι οι γονείς εθελοτυφλούσαν δεν τους βοήθησε πουθενά, διότι η πραγματικότητα έβρισκε πάντα τρόπο να τους προλάβει και μάλιστα να τους προσπεράσει.
Αυτό που μου άρεσε περισσότερο είναι οι περιγραφές της υπαίθρου, του κήπου, της Άνοιξης και του Φθινοπώρου, της απλής καθημερινότητας, το κυνήγι των αρουραίων και της κατασκευής μαρμελάδων!!! Όλες αυτές οι εικόνες είχαν την αποστολή να αναδείξουν την ψυχολογία των βασικών ηρώων, τις συναισθηματικές μεταπτώσεις από την χαρά στην κατάρρευση, και νομίζω ότι αυτή την αποστολή την έφεραν εις πέρας υπέροχα.
3,5/5 αστεράκια.
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
552 reviews257 followers
July 12, 2013
I usually have a lot to say or at least general points I like to mention in reviews but this time I feel so all over the place with this novel... I really don't know what to say or how to begin.

The novel begins with Anna and Tobias welcoming their daughter Freya into the world. Right from the beginning it's obvious that there's something wrong with her. While in the ICU of a an English hospital, they are given a vague diagnosis that their child is severely disabled. They at once begin to loathe this child and how she will ruin their perfectly made plans. One of these plans includes moving to France where Anna can open a restaurant and Tobias to practice his music thing.

Eventually they buy possibly the most dilapidated house in all of France. A house full of mice, bugs, dirt, structural issues, and a plethora of other things that a good home inspection would have requested this house to be condemned. For some obscene reason these parents think that a disabled child can be raised in such a mess since there's always the option of... you know what.

I've felt every sort of emotion imaginable towards Anna and her invisible husband Tobias through much of the novel. The most vivid emotion I remember feeling is anger. But then again I have no children, I have no idea what I'd do or how I'd react if the child I birthed were severely disabled. Their bitching and moaning didn't help with my feelings towards them.

Saira Shah writes an emotion-packed debut novel that at times I felt I shouldn't be reading because of it's honesty. I really felt that I was let in on a secret that I shouldn't know and now I can't unknow it. This novel is well written and will cause readers to laugh, cry, boil over in anger, and also count the blessings that they do have. Of course there's no way to truly mouse-proof a kitchen but that's no reason not to see the beauty in the moments filled with rodents.

Profile Image for Wulfwyn .
1,101 reviews99 followers
March 13, 2013
I truly love this book. It made me feel. It made me think. It had me all over the emotional board. I could not stop reading, falling asleep with the Kindle open to the page I was reading.
Anna and Tobias go through a lot of swinging thoughts and emotions. I can understand it. I have a child, also a girl, who was born beautiful. Within her first year she would begin having seizures, at one point they were counted as 80 a day. Later I had custody of my grandson, another beautiful child. Within six months we knew something was drastically wrong. Then I was given the diagnosis of autism. Unless you have been there you cannot imagine all the different things going on in your head. The author captures that mixture of denial, confusion, hunger for knowledge and answers, the terror and ultimately the love. Everyone reacts differently but I think we all go through certain stages. The knowledge and answer quest. What exactly is wrong? What does that mean? What do we do? Did I do something wrong to cause it? The denial. Oh my. No. It cannot be this. She doesn’t look this bad. It must be something else. Something easier. The confusion and terror. What are they saying? How can we cope with this? It is too much. I don’t know what to do? What if she dies? What if she needs more care than I can give her? How will I let go if it is needed? The anger and grief. Oh yes there is anger. It is the dark secret. No one wants to talk about it or acknowledge it. If you do then people are aghast and judgmental. Yet how do you work through it if you cannot express it? How do you get to the final stages of acceptance and love if you are burying this step?
The author takes us through that. I think, hope really, that Anna and Tobias are written of in the extreme and therefore not realistic way. They are somewhat selfish as they repeatedly talk of abandoning Freya so they can continue on with their perfect life. They do horrible things. Anna and Tobias are stuck in the process. Anna tries to acknowledge the anger and talk about it. However people judge you when you do and she gets judged. So she then keeps it to herself though we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. I liked Anna though there were times I wanted to shout at and shake her. Tobias I really did not care for until the end chapters. I was horrified by some of the things in the book but ultimately I understood a lot of it. I am not saying I agree with the things that happened. It never crossed my mind to give up either my daughter or my grandson, nor did I ever think my life would be better if they passed. Though I was often stressed, (I was a single mom with a limited support system), I never went as far as Anna. I do understand the overwhelming stress and love combination, which the author captures.
I loved Saira Shah’s writing. She is a detailed writer, gifted with the ability to bring you into each scene. Her description of France brought the beauty into my mind. I could picture perfectly the kitchen, the rat infiltration, Anna’s obsessive canning and the scene of Anna's breakdown. Saira Shah breathes life into a difficult story.

This is a gripping book. I believe it is one of those books you will either love or hate. I don’t see much middle ground. I believe it will make some angry, (my post may also), but this is good. People talk when something makes them angry. This is a book that should be talked about and analyzed. It is a book that should make you question and examine yourself closely. I cannot recommend this book enough. I certainly hope it makes it way to book clubs. It is destined to be one of the top books of 2013.
Profile Image for Takoneando entre libros.
645 reviews79 followers
October 4, 2018
¡Una maravilla de libro!
¿Cómo se puede escribir sobre un tema tan duro de una manera tan preciosa, certera y sincera, sin tapujos y que a la vez sea delicada, divertida, entrañable, conmovedora y que te deje buen rollo a pesar de todo?
En este libro no vais a leer cosas políticamente correctas, vais a leer las tribulaciones y los miedos de las más humanas de las personas.
Son miedos reales, pensamientos duros y sin filtros.
No puedo explicaros más sin destripar cosas del libro que tendréis que ir leyendo vosotros, pero os digo que, salvando las distancias, me he visto reflejada en algunos pensamientos.
La autora se escuda en la ironía y el humor un poco negro para salvar los momentos más dramáticos, cómo la entiendo.
Por otro lado la novela es una muestra de gastronomía (la protagonista es chef) paisajes rurales de Francia, olores campestres y amistades a prueba de bombas (eso que cada vez es más difícil encontrar).

¿Recomendaría este libro? Sí, sin duda alguna. Ternura, tristeza, esperanza, belleza y una maravillosa narrativa es lo que vais a encontrar en él.
No le he dado las cinco estrellas ya que ha habido un momento en el que se me ha hecho un poco repetitivo
Profile Image for Nancy McKibben.
Author 4 books7 followers
July 21, 2013
The Mouse-Proof Kitchen
By Saira Shah

This novel examines every parent’s nightmare (well, one of them - we parents have a lot to worry about): Anna and Tobias’s baby daughter is born with severe disabilities. Anna, a chef, and Tobias, a composer, are ill-prepared - perhaps no one is ever prepared - and conflicted. Although Anna bonds at once with baby Freya, Tobias holds back, afraid to love a child who will only bring them heartbreak.

The couple decides, perhaps not all together maturely, to go forward with their dream of moving to France where Anna can continue her career as a chef. In short order, they find themselves not in Provence, because it turns out to be far too expensive, but in Languedoc, a much wilder and more remote part of France, in an appealing, but tumble-down French farmhouse, complete with several eccentric live-in characters.

While Anna copes by canning produce and beating back rats and mice, Tobias hides behind his headphones, composing. Freya’s seizures become more frequent, her needs more demanding, and the couple feels overwhelmed and isolated. Nevertheless, they love their baby:
She makes exquisite little hand movements, delicate as rare orchids in high cloud forests. Her expressions change like weather fronts. I love the serious way she takes her milk from a bottle, a thousand-mile gaze of concentration in her slate-colored eyes. Afterward, she’s sated, drunken, collapsed. When I tilt her forward to burp her, her arms swing forward reflexively, a baby monkey clinging to its mother. As we drift off to sleep, she swims toward me. I never see or feel her move, but when I wake she’s snuggled under my armpit, the sheet soaked where my breasts have rained down on her.

She’s my own, my baby, and she’s perfect. I’m entirely content.

Then the switch flicks in my head and the doctors’ diagnoses become abruptly real. I hang onto her and cry, for minutes, for hours.
This is an honest book. Being Freya’s parents is tough, and Anna and Tobias frequently are irrational, even hateful. The reader can only wonder how she would cope in the same situation; after all, Freya as a baby is still appealing. But her diagnosis means that she will never sit or stand; how will her parents manage as Freya grows? Should they institutionalize her? Will they ever forgive themselves if they do?

Despite all the angst, this book is not a downer. Although Freya is central to the story, she is not all there is to life, as her parents discover. The author tells us in the "Notes and Acknowledgments" that she is the mother of exactly such a child, and wrote the book “as a parallel world where I escaped to subvert a real-life existence that sometimes seemed unbearable.”

Unbearable, yet hopeful. Fictional, yet true-to-life. Don’t be put off by its subject: The Mouse-Proof Kitchen is a worthwhile and uplifting read.

Profile Image for Emily.
513 reviews47 followers
October 13, 2014
Ένσταση για τον τίτλο. Εντελώς ασύμβατος με το ύφος του βιβλίου. Το βιβλίο περιγράφει την ανατροπή της ζωής της ηρωίδας με αφορμή τη γέννηση του παιδιού της. Η ζωή της η προσωπική κλυδωνίζεται, η επαγγελματική περνάει περίπου στην ανυπαρξία και καλείται να αντιμετωπίσει τις συνθήκες μιας μετακόμισης περίπου στο πυρ το εξώτερον, τη μαμά της που εισβάλλει ως ταύρος σε υαλοπωλείο κραδαίνων κατεβατό με ατελείωτες συμβουλές και παρατηρήσεις, νέα πρόσωπα γεμάτα προβλήματα και τα ίδια ... Ως κερασάκι στην προβληματική τούρτα έρχεται να καθίσει η αιτία όλων αυτών : η γέννηση ενός ανίατα άρρωστου μωρού.
Η ηρωίδα ξεκινά μία πάλη με τον εαυτό της και τα ενοχικά συναισθήματα που την κατακλύζουν εξαιτίας της απόρριψης που νοιώθει για το μωρό της. Παλεύει όμως και με τις εποχές του χρόνου που κάνουν ακόμα δυσκολότερη τη ζωή της στο νέο της σπίτι, ένα αγρόκτημα στην άκρη του πουθενά. Το ετοιμόρροπο σπίτι θυμίζει και παραπέμπει στον εσωτερικό της κόσμο. Τα σχέδια της για μια καλύτερη ζωή, προσωπική και επαγγελματική διαψεύδονται και η ίδια αναλώνεται σε έναν άνισο αγώνα που τελικά την εξαντλεί.

Διάφορα ερωτήματα τίθενται στο βιβλίο. Οφείλει ένας γονιός να αφιερώσει - καταστρέψει όλη του τη ζωή, προσωπική και συζυγική για να φροντίσει ένα άρρωστο παιδί; Ή μήπως έχει παρέλθει ο καιρός της θυσίας ��αι οφείλει στον εαυτό του να κοιτάξει μπροστά, ισορροπώντας συναισθηματικά και διοχετεύοντας τις δυνάμεις του στην εξέλιξη του και της σχέσης του με το σύντροφό του;

Η ηρωίδα μάχεται, καταρρέει, επανακάμπτει, απελπίζεται, τα παρατάει, επιστρέφει. Το μωρό της κατάφερε να το αγαπήσει και να συμφιλιωθεί με την κατάσταση και το μέλλον του που γίνεται άρρηκτα δεμένο με το δικό της και του άντρα της. Όχι από ανάγκη ή τύψεις αλλά από συνειδητή επιλογή.

Μέσα από άπειρες ψυχικές μεταπτώσεις επιλέγει το μωρό της, ξέροντας ότι θα υπάρχει ημερομηνία λήξης. Σε πείσμα των συνθηκών οργανώνει το σπίτι της και επενδύει στο όνειρό της. Αποφεύγει τη θυσία και μέσα από όλες τις διεργασίες που περνάει καταφέρνει να συνεχίσει να ονειρεύεται μια ζωή που θα περιλαμβάνει και το άρρωστο παιδί της μαζί με όλα αυτά που λαχταράει να δημιουργήσει.

Η ιστορία βασίζεται σε αληθινά γεγονότα. Πολλές φορές οι περιγραφές σοκάρουν με την ωμότητα τους και εννοώ την απερίφραστη άρνηση των γονιών να ασχοληθούν με το παιδί τους. Αναρωτιέται ο αναγνώστης "μα είναι δυνατόν να λες νέτα σκέτα ότι θες να πεθάνει το παιδί σου μια ώρα αρχύτερα;". Και όμως είναι, όπως φαίνεται από το βιβλίο. Ίσως για μας τους νότιους είναι σοκαριστικό. Μπορεί να το σκέφτεσαι και να το παρακαλάς ενδόμυχα αλλά δεν το ξεστομίζεις έτσι εύκολα. Η έννοια της υποχρέωσης ίσως είναι περισσότερο αναπτυγμένη σε μας.
Πάντως είναι ένα βιβλίο γεμάτο με συναισθήματα που τονίζονται περισσότερο από τις περιγραφές των δύσκολων συνθηκών που βιώνει η ηρωίδα.
Profile Image for Dale Harcombe.
Author 14 books297 followers
February 15, 2014
Did I enjoy it? No, in a lot of ways, because I found myself getting angry and outraged at the characters, their words and their actions. Was I involved? Absolutely, from start to finish. It was an emotional roller coaster. Would I have considered stopping reading? Not in this lifetime.
Tobias and Anna are looking forward to the birth of the first child. Anna is a person who liked to have a plan and everything in place. But when she finds out their child, Freya, brought into the world by Caesarean, all plans get thrown out the window. Although looking perfect, Freya has severe problems that include frequent seizures. Tobias, who I thought until close to the end of the novel was a self centred pig of a man, wants to abandon Freya at that point. Anna finds that not so easy to do.
They end up in France taking Freya with them but instead of Provence as planned they find themselves in a dilapidated farmhouse in Languedoc that is infested what Anna suspects are mice. Anna’s mother is one of those characters that work well in fiction but if you met them in real life you would run way as fast as you could. Some of the things she comes out with are so self absorbed and thoughtless. But then some of the words that come out of Anna’s and Tobias’ mouth are no less so. This book seems to focus on the things people may think but never normally say. These characters do. Never having been in the position of having a severely disabled child, it’s hard to judge Anna and Tobias and say what thoughts might cross a person's mind and what they might say privately to each other about the situation. Saira Shah makes sure the reader knows all these thoughts most people would never say.
There are some soft moments and moments that make you laugh but on the whole, this is a very stark picture of a couple coming to terms with the situation life has handed them. They’re not always going to act in sweetness and light. So if you’re prepared for a story that will engage your emotions, not always in a positive way, and make you think, then I suggest you read this.
Profile Image for Karen M.
272 reviews
July 17, 2020
This was an unknown author and a somewhat different sort of book for me. I thought it may be a little Joanne Harris which was the appeal , as was the promise of France . The characters were a little flat, and relied on stereotypes - Kerim , fleeing from societal disapproval because of his choices, the 50s bandbox mother with more than smudge of the mommy dearest about her, the French sausage maker ( chocolate is more appealing) , the unbalanced orphaned hippy ... I’d better stop here.
The story of a couple coming to terms with a baby born with life changing problems was interesting. The fact that they are so comfortably ensconced in super middle class lifestyles and cushioned by cash does sometimes detract from the points being made about choices for children with huge medical needs and the love of a mother for her child. For me though the peripheral character of Ludovic , although his story was clearly signposted, helped carry the story. The Second World War chaos in France was evoked and the terrible deaths of many brave resistance fighters. There are many monuments to people murdered by the Nazis , this breathed life into the way war , and occupation , affects towns and villages because of choices made. It seemed to link to the life and death choices Anna and Tobias are having to make and how what they decide will continue to haunt their future.
It makes you realise that , however much you try, you can’t ever mouse proof your kitchen let alone your life.
Profile Image for Candice.
1,411 reviews
October 25, 2013
It's hard for me to honestly rate and review this book because my granddaughter was born last April with some of the same disabilities as Freya, although fortunately much less severe. I think the author captured the mixed feelings that parents (and grandparents, too) have about a special needs child entering their lives. But there was too much else going on in the book with their move from England to a dilapidated beyond charming house in France. I also found some of the characters a bit unbelievable, especially Anna's mother. I also question some of the actions of both Anna and her husband, Tobias, yet I do like the way Tobias's character developed over time. One more question - Freya is diagnosed in the hospital with severe brain abnormalities yet it appears that from the time they bring her home from the hospital until she is six months old it appears that she does not visit a doctor. It was a good read, but with a bit too much going on. It could almost be two separate stories - living with a severely disabled child and starting a new life in a house that is anything but mouse-proof in France.
Profile Image for Beverly.
1,634 reviews341 followers
July 29, 2013
This heart-tugging emotional story told in a memoir-like format is intimately introspective, brutally honest yet deliciously warm with dollops of life-affirming humor. The narrator is Anna, a chef who loves order and this is accomplished by planning out her life dreams. Her partner is Tobias, a charming musician who is more carefree in his approach to life. But they are soon in a spot that stops them in their tracks – daughter Freya is born with profound disabilities. Anna worries what if she does not love Freya enough; Tobias worries what if we do, while an impulse buy of run-down animal infested farmhouse further challenges the couple’s past and future commitments. A glimpse into the healthcare systems of Britain and France and alternatives for disabled children was enlightening. This touching story of love, family, and loyalty is enhanced by a cast of eccentric secondary characters.
Profile Image for Louise.
2,442 reviews46 followers
November 3, 2016
I found this very bizarre..what was it trying to be? Not anywhere near frothy enough for chick lit, not serious enough to be proper novel.
Anna and Tobias are dealt a devastating blow, when they find out their child is disabled, yeah,I get that,I get how overwhelming and emotional and harrowing that is...not sure the book does, there were times this read more like a story of renovation of French house, and child was forgotten...and often neglected, and left with bad care...
And they kept saying "we musnt love her, we'll give her up if she is too much work"
Six months old and they still don't love her?? These characters are not normal.
None of it rang true, none of it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,730 reviews289 followers
April 25, 2013
dark humour but delightful novel about a couple who have a disabled child and move to south of france and to a ruin of a farmhouse and the trials of rebuilding a life and pressures of a relationship and a disabled child which the author portrays every well
29 reviews
March 5, 2013
I won this book from the First Reads program. The book begins when a British couple, Anna and Tobias, are having their first baby. The little girl, Freya, is born with brain damage, and will likely have many severe physical and mental challenges. The new parents are told that their child might never reach typical milestones, like talking, walking, or even recognizing her mother and father. Tobias is adamant that he does not want to raise such a disabled baby, and suggests leaving her at the hospital, to be put into foster care. Anna goes back and forth between her love for her husband and her love for her new baby. She describes feeling like a switch is being turned on and off—one moment she loves Freya, and the next she wants to abandon her.
Before their daughter was born, Anna and Tobias had been planning to leave London and move to France. Anna, a chef, was hoping to start her own restaurant. They discover that all the homes in Provence are out of their price range, but they find a tumble-down farm house surrounded by hills in Les Rajons, a remote village in France. Although they have some doubts, they decide that a fresh start is just what they need so they pick up and move only a few weeks after Freya is born.
At their new home, Anna and Tobias set out to make their house habitable, and they meet many friends and quirky characters who welcome them to the village.
The best parts of this book were the rich and detailed descriptions of the beautiful hillsides and farmland, Anna’s cooking and jam-making adventures, the changing of the seasons and all the plants and vegetables in the garden. I liked the interesting characters, especially Ludovic, a farmer whose family used to own the house, Julien, a free spirit who lives off the land and has a crush on a village girl, and Kerim, a young man with a secret who takes care of Freya, fixes up Anna’s kitchen and helps make their house a home.
As time goes on, Anna and Tobias each have their own ways of dealing with the stress of caring for a disabled child. Tobias becomes more deeply invested in his work as a composer, while Anna cooks and makes every type of jam imaginable, finding refuge in her orderly kitchen.
Readers will be sure to fall in love with this moving story of heartbreak and hope.
Profile Image for Erin.
769 reviews30 followers
July 3, 2013
I received this as an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from Bookbrowse.com, and when I started reading it, I questioned my sanity in requesting it in the first place. Not because it's a terrible book--it's not. Rather, because a woman in her late 30s, six months pregnant for the first time with a much-anticipated daughter should probably not read a story about a woman in her late 30s who just gave birth for the first time to Freya, an unexpectedly severely handicapped baby girl. Anna's despair, frustration, and need to control something--anything--in her out-of-control life rang out so strongly, I had a hard time disengaging my own emotions from hers.

Anna's husband shirks responsibility and provides virtually no support--emotionally, financially, or practically. I kept wondering why she stayed with him. She supposedly loved him very much, but I really didn't see why. He ignores her for most of the book and spends most of his time shutting out the world while he works on composing movie music and flirting with Lizzy, the flibbertigibbet teenager they pay to help take care of Freya...which she never actually does.

Anna becomes increasingly short-tempered and shrewish as the book progresses and her exhaustion (mental and physical) mounts, which is certainly a realistic reaction to her situation. I didn't always like Anna, but I also could empathize with how she was feeling, and I certainly don't claim I'd react any better were I in her shoes. How does one cope with the collapse of one's dreams of parenthood? How do you face a lifetime caring for a child whose brain never fully developed and who has constant seizures, a lack of muscle control, and will only ever be, in essence, a gigantic infant, no matter how long she lives, never capable of caring for her own most basic needs, if she even survives at all?

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (they move from England to a village in France) is secondary. To me the tone of the book was...heavy and frequently depressing. The secondary characters are quite well-developed, and the mystery of their neighbor's mother's death during WWII was intriguing. I think this would make an excellent choice for an adult book discussion group.
Profile Image for Lynne.
112 reviews7 followers
June 30, 2013
Reading this engrossing story put me on a roller coaster of emotions. A young couple, Tobias and Anna, are preparing for the birth of their first child when suddenly their lives turn into a whirlwind of drama, emotion and adventure relayed month by month over the first year of their new daughter’s life. Both Tobias and Anna search for a way to ‘escape’ the emotional burden of caring for their severely disabled but “perfect” daughter. They struggle with a fear of loving her and losing her. The move to France to take on the renovation of a dilapidated estate begins the adventure and the many delightful characters that come into their lives during that year in France add great depth to the story. I found I could not put down the book as I was caught up in their quest for providing care for this child and still finding some way to develop some normalcy in their lives and survive. The touching scenes between parent and child in so many situations will stay with me for a long time. Their final decision is a testament to the power of love which can in this case surmount many difficulties. Beware that their kitchen needed a lot more than mouse-proofing.
Profile Image for Kevan Bowkett.
61 reviews7 followers
January 3, 2015
This is a wonderful book that I think anyone would enjoy. The story seems like the landscape of upland Languedoc in which it's set -- variously harsh, bitter, joyful, drenched in life, stormy, sane-and-taking-stock, a bleak desert. The story of Anna, Tobias, and their massively disabled daughter Freya shows us something about love -- at its limits and beyond the limits. The characters are vivid, well-drawn. The images of the country changing throughout the year are beautiful, beautifully-evoked. One is immersed in the landscape as well as in the personal lives of the characters. Saira Shah exhibits a remarkable poetic talent. She gets the characters to the point where they seem to be concerned with tasting the pith of life -- but the characters do not therefor become sensualists. Rather they seem to be on a road to finding out what Life and Love are all about -- and the sensations and images of the kitchen, the land, the interactions of the people, all contribute to this somehow. Get it and read it: it's a feast!
Profile Image for Alison Smith.
843 reviews17 followers
July 6, 2016
I wanted to read the book because of its intriguing title. The topic is a difficult one - severely disabled babies.
Anna & Tobias move from London to Languedoc, France, with their 6-week old severely disabled baby Freya - a "no-hope, no-future"child. They buy a dilapidated farmhouse on a hillside and try - ineffectually - to put it to rights. She's a professional chef who wants to start a cooking school, but first needs to mouseproof her kitchen against hordes of rodents. A tough, uncompromising account of dealing with a deteriorating non-developing baby, what this does to the couple and their marriage; how they do, and do not, cope. Lovely descriptions of the changing seasons, local foods and people, in between the emotional switchbacks. Really engrossing.
938 reviews5 followers
February 10, 2014
An expectant couple from London decide that after giving birth they will move to the south of France. The baby is born with multiple issues that will drastically affect her development. They move to a dilapidated house in a remote French town. They have a very difficult time dealing with their newborn and each other. I loved the honest portrayal in dealing with a child with major handicaps. The people in the village are wonderful additions to the main characters. Although depressing subject there were moments of wonder and brevity. I really enjoyed this book. Oh she's a chef and boy would I eat at her house!!!!
Profile Image for Linda Dickson.
23 reviews1 follower
March 25, 2013
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Read. I loved this book. Life seldom turns out as we imagine it will. It certainly took a turn for Anna and Tobias and their new daughter, Freya, whose disabilities changed everything. Learning to cope, adapt, accept and move on through life is a journey for everyone in and around the family. You will be right there with them on the journey to experience the fear, the struggle, the pain and the joy and see how it all works out. You will certainly appreciate the courage of parents or anyone who lives or works with a disabled child.
Profile Image for Kim.
1,292 reviews35 followers
September 9, 2013
I am still not sure what to make of this book. It is well done, but I really wanted to beat the shit out of some of the characters most of the time, which is wrong in my mind. The author shares her own struggles with a disabled child in a fictional way, but any parent or anyone familiar with disabled children will nod along with many of the situations. Mayhap a bit too over the top versions of what could have been more realistic reactions may have given me the feeling of a higher rating.
Profile Image for Liliflaj.
472 reviews33 followers
September 20, 2016
Mucna, tuzna i bas jaka tema - roditeljstvo i svo lepo ali i strasno sto to iskustvo donosi; tesko je bilo citati ovu knjigu ali kad je jednom zapocnes ne mozes a da je ne procitas do kraja u rekordnom vremenu.
Profile Image for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.
2,455 reviews513 followers
July 5, 2013

In Saira Shah's debut novel, The Mouse-Proof Kitchen, Anna and Tobias's plans - to leave London for an idyllic cottage in Provence where Anna can raise Freya while working part time as a chef and Tobias can chase lucrative work as a film music composer - are thrown into disarray when their daughter is born. Unexpectedly, the doctors have told them that Freya has brain malformations that indicate she will have severe cognitive and physical disabilities and neither Anna nor Tobias feel they will be able to cope with her needs. Tobias suggests abandoning their newborn in the hospital but Anna, despite her very real concern about her ability to love and care for their daughter, is persuaded to take Freya home 'for a while'. Reluctant to concede the death of their dreams, Anna and Tobias move to a partly derelict farmhouse in a remote region of France where they are faced with a kitchen infested by rodents, and a daughter they must learn to love.

The Mouse-Proof Kitchen is a moving yet darkly subversive story inspired by, but not based upon, the author's own life experience. It is an exaggeration of emotion, domestic drama and dysfunction in the face of adversity, exploring the disruption of the 'best laid schemes of mice and men'.

While Tobias buries himself in work, Anna tries desperately to re-gather the shards of her broken dreams but her reality is a kitchen infested by rodents, an unhelpful husband and the relentless needs of her daughter. Over the course of a year, as they struggle to accept their new circumstances, they battle with resentment, tiredness and guilt.
Despite their glaring faults as parents, Anna and Tobias do provoke sympathy. They are both terrified to love Freya and become attached to a child whose life expectancy is limited and whose needs are unending.

Respite from the emotional maelstrom comes from a supporting cast of quirky characters that make their way to Les Rajons including teenage hippy Lizzy, the angelic Kerim and Anna's visiting mother as well as neighbors Julien and Ludovic. Each character challenges Anna in particular to reexamine her notions about motherhood, family, marriage and in their own unique way, help Anna and Tobias on their journey to acceptance.

Confronting, funny and touching, The Mouse-Proof Kitchen is a remarkable novel about the reshaping of dreams and unconditional love.

Profile Image for Ramsay Wood.
Author 10 books235 followers
August 27, 2014
I heard delightful echoes of Candide, Nancy Mitford (*The Blessing*, *Don't Tell Alfred*), even Penelope Fitzgerald (*The Beginning of Spring*) when reading this terrific multi-faceted, tough-love novel. Try to imagine how tricky it is to sustain an over-tone of narrative voice that combines life's utter rip-heart stuff with laughter, but Saira Shah pulls it off trippingly with panache. You don't need me to tell you that today's conventional (and droopingly easier!) tear-stained default is the misery memoir, or as a fed-up friend of mine recently shouted (she): "I HATE The Pain of My People" books!"

I especially liked the rat episodes as they activated this reader's one-removed hunting instincts, meaning I kept thinking of my Tortoiseshell cat Dolly (deceased) who was a consummate ratter. Twice in her life she dragged dead rats through the cat-flat to honour our London household with offerings almost her own size.

Have you ever read Paul Gallico's *Jennie*, the story of a London boy who is transformed into a cat and has to learn how to kill a rat to survive? There's a rather technical description of how a cat has to time its counter-attack exactly in order to throw a cornered rat so precisely as to be able to break its back. I have no idea if this is true but certainly believed it when I read the book. I also believe that Tortoiseshell cats (they're almost always female) are the best ratters. Our Kiwi vet called them "Naughty Tortoies". So all during this book's rat episodes I kept thinking "Get a Tortoie and let her loose!" Ah, well . . . wasn't necessary :)

Read to find out why. Every reader digests a different meal. Write a review telling others what you tasted. Keep Saira Shah writing more books. We need her!
Profile Image for Karen R.
839 reviews496 followers
June 15, 2013
The more I read, the more this book captured my interest and increased my compassion for the parents of a severely disabled child, Freya. At first thinking each selfish, I sympathized with both Annie and Tobias and the path each chose to survive emotionally, fumbling along in their own way dealing with the constant care and seizures of Freya. Sadly as happens in real life, the nurturing of their relationship often came last. To make their lives even more complicated, they move from London to a crumbling, rat-infested farmhouse in a remote town in France. Some of the locals who became a part of their circle, Ludovic, Yvonne, Julien, were charming characters. Although a work of fiction, upon reading Sara Shah’s notes and acknowledgements, the symptoms and prognosis of Freya mirror those of the author’s own daughter. The strong emotions captured in the book come from a place in her own heart. Very well done and gave me tremendous insight and renewed appreciation for the caregivers of the world.
Profile Image for Shana.
1,172 reviews24 followers
December 5, 2013
This novel was sort of all over the place, which some might find charming but I found a bit irritating at times. At the center of the story is a couple expecting their first child. However, once she is born, they find that she is severely disabled. Cue marital strife. The parents cannot agree on a course of action regarding their child, but do end up purchasing a rundown property in the French countryside. A colorful supporting cast add to the charm, but throughout it all there is the question of what to do with their child. Frankly, I found much of it unrealistic. At times they discuss how difficult it is raising this child, but at other times she is simply a quiet presence in the background and doesn't seem to require much care at all. In fact, she comes across as generally easier to care for than a developmentally "normal" baby. Even when the author describes the child's fits, it was never with an urgency or fear that would befit the situation. Perhaps she bit off more than she could chew with the plot lines.
Profile Image for Marija Milošević.
250 reviews69 followers
March 20, 2018

Profile Image for Corrie.
25 reviews
March 10, 2013
I received this book through first reads. Thanks so much! I made it through this book pretty quickly. It was a interesting story. It made me think. As a parent of two young children I just really had a dislike for these two people. But then how can I judge? I have not been in their situation. I really thought these two people were so selfish they have a disabled baby and all they think about is getting rid of her.As the story went on many of the choices they made were just wrong. Morally wrong. I did enjoy the writing and if this book was meant to make me think, then that I did. I would read more books by this author.
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