A delicious and delectable novel by an award-winning food writer that leaves you wanting more.


Kurlansky (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris, 2010, etc.) dishes up a loosely concatenated novel, each part titled after a food that plays a starring role in that chapter.

The surrealistic opening, “Red Sea Salt,” introduces us to Robert Eggle, who finds himself literally in a hole. When he emerges, he discovers that he’s lost both his memory and his sense of smell and taste. He needs to re-create his personal and professional life but discovers it’s not that difficult to fake his way through—even though it turns out he’s a noted writer on food. (In a later chapter, it’s mentioned that he’s about to get his own show on the Food Channel.) In another chapter, a woman finds out she’s incompatible with her putatively perfect lover when they go to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. She’s turned off by his gourmet tastes, for all she wants is standard stadium fare—hot dogs and beer—while he brings in Cajun shrimp, stuffed veal with pistachios and artichokes in herbs and olive oil. In “Osetra,” a tough brother (ironically nicknamed Wonderbread) is involved in filching some food from a market and discovers the complex pleasure of Osetra caviar: “It exploded on his tongue—fragile, buttery bubbles of flavor, dark and rich as his mother’s bacalao.” “Belons” takes us to France, where an aging man fulfills his dream of living in Paris and also discovers belons, succulent oysters from Brittany, that work their aphrodisiac magic. In “Menudo,” a senator in Mexico on an official political visit beds down with his translator, leading to a leisurely erotic day because she won’t let him leave until he tastes her menudo…which, like love and sex, cannot be rushed. In another chapter, the scion of a family owning an estate in Bordeaux goes to Paris and discovers an even more succulent beverage—Orangina.

A delicious and delectable novel by an award-winning food writer that leaves you wanting more.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-488-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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