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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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