Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Food of Love - Anthony Capella

Nobody does food better than Anthony Capella. At least in a book. I am no gourmand but I did consider myself to be having a sufficiently succinct palette. The Food of Love changed all that and now I know that to appreciate food on such a level that it uplifts you, you have to belong in a different league entirely. Or you have to be Italian.

I have read two of Capella's books and the similarity is that he weaves his story around the food. The food is the protagonist and all the different ways he assaults your senses and leaves you craving is the plot. Italy's tourism department hardly needs extra publicity to promote their country but adding the Food of Love as a must-read in the brochures won't hurt.

The plot is simple enough: Laura is a twenty-something American Art History student who is in Italy for a year on an exchange program. Enter Tomasso who sees her in a cafe and wants her. To impress Laura, he pretends to be a chef but in reality he is a busboy who can't cook if his life depends on it. So how does he impress Laura? Especially when he tells her that he is a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant? Enter Bruno, pastry chef at Templi and Tomasso's roommate. Bruno cooks and Tomasso passes it off as his own; he seduces Laura, they have fun and everyone goes home happy. At least that is the plan but Bruno complicates things when he falls in love with Laura. So with every meal he makes her, he throws his soul into it and in turn Laura's expectation of Tomasso goes up and soon they all find themselves in a pickle.

The Food of Love is a joy for the true foodie. Along with Laura, Tomasso and Bruno you get intimate with Rome and Roman food. Through Bruno, Capella teaches you to truly appreciate food, teaches you the power of it. The book conveys the message that food can do anything: it can make you fall in love, seduce you, break hearts, resolve differences and quite simply dazzle you.

Some recipes might make you queasy but it is important to remember that the story is much more than ingredients. Because they are just that, ingredients. You can add your own if you want but the end product should be a feast to your taste buds and that's what matters. Just have some fresh pasta at hand. You WILL feel hungry :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Folktales of the British Isles - (Edited By) James Riordan

I love folktales. Well, who doesn't? They are such windows to the minds and hearts of people who lived long ago, in parts of the world one might not be familiar with. A good collection of folktales is a perfect mixture of the myths, the men and the legends and James Riordan's Folktales of the British Isles is right up my alley.

The book looks beautiful, it is a nice chocolate brown hardbound with yellow lettering. It belonged to mom but she gave it to me last month and that in itself makes the book special. It is more than thirty years old. Maybe because of the gesture behind it, opening the book was like opening a musty old treasure chest, a little rickety but good enough and sound enough to preserve all those stories within its covers. I ran my hand over the pages, breathed in deeply, that particular smell that only old books have and settled down to devour it.

The book contains a collection of tales from The west country, The south east, Wales, The midlands, East Anglia, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, The north east, Scotland, Isle of Man, Ireland and a couple of Gypsy tales. The tales range from whimsy to superstitious to cute to horrific. The collection of stories from each region resonates with the voices and lives of its people in that obscure yet insightful way that only folktales can.

So you read about demons and dragons, elves and pixies and fairies, boggarts and banshees. Some of the stories warm your heart, some make you laugh and some might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand stiff. But they are all immensely entertaining and you are swept along effortlessly till there is no barrier between you and these people who profess to have experienced or witnessed or heard of these things.

Perhaps to really like it, you need to have a taste for such stories but it is that very thing, the incredulity quotient that folktales have that make them so beguiling. So read away. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

One last thing - The one jarring note was perhaps how elves, fairies and pixies were considered to be dangerous and not to be trifled with, rather than cute and fun and so on. It went against how I have considered these magical creatures to be and that worries me. I love to believe. In Santa, in fairies, in angel food, in elves, in Rudolph. And I want them to be the good guys so if I ever come across a teeny tiny leprechaun, all green and beard I will be sure to ask him :)

I could not find the image for this book anywhere, but if anyone is able to get hold of it I shall be grateful.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince was like a many tiered cake or some such dessert like that. There were all these little nuggets of wisdom hidden deep within the simple lines and pictures that exploded in the brain only a good while after I had finished the book.

The Little Prince is at first deceptively simple, it is such a childlike book with words and drawings that will endear themselves to you and lacing this seeming childishness is an undercurrent of pure insight that few readers will be hard pressed to understand. This is not so much a review as a sort of note on the book. Of all the books I have ever read, it is The Little Prince that baffles me. I can't seem to grasp it's soul quick enough or strong enough to write a nice meaty review. I have read it over half dozen times and each time some new aspect of it strikes me. And I take that idea to examine it only to find it blurring away to be replaced by another one, the next time I read the book.

The little prince and the unlikely friend he makes of the pilot stranded in the desert are a kindred pair. They hit it off immediately, from the moment the prince recognizes the pilot's boa constrictor, you know that there is something special about this little boy, and about the book. Through them both, you learn to hate baobabs, learn wisdom from a fox, learn to handle the vanities of the prince's rose and to fall in love with it too and most of all, learn about the idiosyncrasies of man.

It is a strange, slightly disturbing nevertheless enjoyable journey and as you travel with them, you will learn valuable lessons on love, passion and loyalty. The end might bewilder you and break your heart just a little bit, but that is only because like the pilot, you have grown to love the little boy who has come such a long way from his home planet.

Read The Little Prince and enjoy it in your own way. In the end, you will also be on the lookout for the little boy with golden hair.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles is my first Thomas Hardy. Having put it on my list a long time ago I finally borrowed it from the library and knuckled down to read the huge book. I am an ardent fan of classics, nevertheless, I had no clue about Thomas Hardy's style of writing; I did not know how much I would be able to connect with the book or how far the writing would take me. I needn't have worried; Thomas Hardy wastes no time in setting the pace of the plot from the very first chapter onwards and what followed was more a heartrending memoir of Tess's life than just a novel to enjoy.

Through circumstances under her control or otherwise, Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her foolhardy parents on a mission to visit a rich old lady in the neighbouring village. The lady's name is D'Urberville (an ancient noble family's name) and the impoverished Durbeyfields are led to believe that they themselves are descendants of the family of D'Urberville. Fueled partly by penury and partly by greed, Tess's parents (somewhat incorrectly - the reasons for which, I shall not reveal here) assume the rich lady from Tantridge to be their relation and corner Tess into making the journey to Tantridge to "claim next of kin". On her way to Tantridge Tess meets perchance, the old lady's son Alec D'Urberville and therewith lies her downfall.

The direction of Tess's life is completely decided by two men: Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare. The first one is the nemesis who causes her life to careen off track. The second is the husband with whom she is desperately in love and who spurs her for the past that was quite out of her control.

Of the two men, both of whom are enamored with Tess Durbeyfield, there comes a time when you wonder which one really is the villain of Tess's life.

Thomas Hardy's attempt to question the prejudices of an iron-fettered society works on target. While you read the book you forced to ponder over one question: Is illiteracy a deterrent to shun the evils of a society that gloried in crucifying women for the fault of immoral men or is education? The line is fine and you may have to figure out that one for yourself. Tess was a country bumpkin who ate her bitter bread without question or complaint. Tess loved her husband in spite of his inability to "love" his wife when she finally plucks up the courage to tell him of her past. She loved him even as she suffered and never thought to blame anybody but herself for the ills that befell her. But the readers are persuaded otherwise.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles will sit comfortably on the truly unprejudiced but for those of us who are, it will make us take out our little prejudices and examine their sense or their folly while forcing us to answer this question with absolute honesty: Should the past ever matter when you truly love someone?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stardust - Neil Gaiman

I love the word "Faerie". I suppose the whimsical part of me would love "faerie" instead of "fairy", "elven" instead of "elfin" and Neil Gaiman's Stardust satisfies that inner need for whimsy so thoroughly.

Stardust is a precious find. Every book I buy is a treasure and a friend, but it is when I come across a long coveted book quite by accident that it become absolutely special. I stood for a few seconds inhaling the heady smell that all new books have and as I rustled the pages, whispers seemed to leak through the book and right into my ear. These tiny, feather-like voices were telling me to go home. To go home fast and curl up with Stardust. Which is exactly what I did.

Along with Neil, I travelled in the time machine to Victorian England and visited the deceptively sleepy village of Wall. Having visited Wall, how could I possibly come back without making friends with Tristran Thorn? How could I not sympathize with him when stupid, cruel Victoria challenges him to cross the wall into faerie and go after a fallen star of all things as proof of his love for her? When I could not stop myself from doing these things, there was absolutely no way that I could not accompany Tristran into Faerie. Read Stardust and the same fate awaits you.

Faerie promises a bizarre ride for anyone who dares to cross the wall. You will be dazzled and not a little afraid.

In a world dominated by Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Neil Gaiman has given us a new gem in the fantasy genre. Stardust is more about Tristran's journey than about what happens in the "end". He has created a world that is at once in harmony with the normal world and at once not. Tristran Thorn goes on a wild, magical journey in search of a star and in the process learns much about himself and about life. I won't divulge anymore. Even though it is highly likely that you have already watched the movie version, Stardust is best read without my giving away anything here. To really enjoy Stardust, be bold, cross the wall into Faerie and prepare to be enchanted, all from the comforts of your armchair. You will have a hard time coming back.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

"Step back! We have a winner!" Joey Tribbiani's words (however out of context they may be here) never ran truer. I struck gold with this book. When I finished reading it, I could not help thanking God for my mad browsing habit, if I hadn't browsed quite like mad the other day, I would have never stumbled upon this book, would have never fallen in love with the book's title then and there.

Books on WWII never fail to attract me and the more different, the better. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society scores perfect points in this department. Written in epistolary form entirely, TGLAPPPS takes you on a delightful journey to Guernsey Island in the Channel as the silent and invisible guest of Juliet Ashton. Juliet Ashton is a writer living in post-war London; Juliet Ashton like millions of women survived the war; Juliet Ashton will never be able to forget it for as long as she lives, it will shadow her all the days of her life. Juliet Ashton of post-war London is utterly and unquestionably adorable.

Through Juliet, we come to love the brother-sister duo of Sidney and Sophia, we meet and befriend the lovely people of Guernsey, learn about their lives, make friends with Kit, hear stories about Elizabeth McKenna and finally settle down in Guernsey for the rest of our lives. Nobody who has taken this extraordinary journey with Juliet can blame us either, for they will be wandering around the tiny island themselves. You might even meet them for tea at one of the society members' houses.

TGLAPPPS is one of those rare books that completely satisfies the reader. This is a book for the bedside table as the reader will often want to read a letter here or a letter there; such is the quality of this book. Books based on the war have made me weep, cringe in horror, laugh even (with catch 22). But I have always wondered what it must have been like to live the war, to live through it and come out with the ability to smile; what it must have been like for the person next door: the writer, the pig farmer, the squire's wife, the hippy. This book has taught me that; through Juliet and her friends I have lived in 1946 and faced the immediate aftermath of the war, have watched them pick up the threads of their lives; through their memories, I have faced occupation, bombed houses, deceased friends, witnessed extraordinary strength of character, have learnt that not all Germans living in Nazi Germany were "bad".

Buy it, borrow it, please don't steal it but read it, you MUST read it. I can guarantee that you will love it, you will come away with fond memories, know exactly how Guernsey looks at sunset, know how delightfully peaceful it might be to be a pig farmer, how heady it must be to a writer.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a collection of fondly written letters among true kindred souls. Once you have read it, keep it at your bedside, read one or two letters now and then, fondly, like revisiting an old friend and then go to sleep with visions of potato peel pie floating in your head.