Monday, 11 August 2014

About The Book: The Hundred-Foot Journey

I came across The Hundred-Foot Journey through the trailer of the film based on the book.   But of course,  it will take months for the movie to reach my continent,  so I went scouring for the book instead.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a tale of displacement, family, tragedy and lasting friendships put together in a rich, satisfying  background of  food, glorious food.   It is the life story of Hassan Haji,  a Michelin-starred chef-owner of  a Parisian restaurant.  It  chronicles  his childhood in India, his family´s restaurant in Bombay and a terrible tragedy that led to his family´s departure from India. There is also his father´s tacky Indian  restaurant  somewhere in the  French countryside,  and Hassan´s eventual ascent  as a Michelin-starred  chef,  each page flavoured with vivid  culinary descriptions.

There are those to whom food may be nothing but a means to get sustenance. But for those of us who look at food as a gift,  a fleeting and delicate art form,  or even a symbol of love.   For those who has at one time revelled in the the joy of cooking,  who found joy in slaving for hours in the kitchen, working with their hands, mouth, and nose.   Those  who, like me,  once carried the secret hope of cooking for a living. Or those who know so well the  hope and magic carried by the interstitial minutes, as one waits for the cake to rise, or for the soupy mishmash in the pot to break down and turn into that lovely, rich stew.  This book is for you.  We, closet gourmets/cooking enthusiasts/lovers of all that is delicous are doomed to love this book despite its flaws, just because it feels as if someone out there has written  what we have always known,  how food can be so transformational, how wonderful it is to witness the alchemy of cooking.

 I feel that The Hundred-Journey  has a similar flavor to  Jhumpa Lahiri´s The Lowland and Khaled  Hosseini´s And The Mountains Echoed.  The fluid, quiet yet lyrical writing of Lahiri and Hosseini are  also found in The Hundred-Foot Journey.  In truth,  this novel is like a novel in three parts.  The first part is set in India, depicting childhood and innocence and origins, and then at the end of the first part, the pivot: a tragedy that sets into motion the second act.  The second part finds Hassan´s family in Europe, emigrants,  hoping to find life anew in another continent.  They settle in Lumiere, a small town in the french countryside,  where his father opens an Indian restaurant, complete with tacky indian decorations and Bollywood music.  Across the road is Le Saule Pleurer, a two Michelin star restaurant  owned by Madame Mallory.    And it the interactions between the Hassans and Madame Mallory that sets Haji on his culinary path. This is where Hassan goes through his hundred-foot journey, crossing over from being a "chef" in his father´s Indian restaurant to becoming the student and protege of Madame Mallory.  The third part is of Hassan going into the world, in Paris, working as a chef, and eventually opening his restaurant.  If you ask me,  I liked the third part of the book best, not because it is at this point that Hassan gets his Michelin stars, but because as in all tales of  outsiders and emigres, like in the works of Lahiri and Hosseini -- the first part is always about a life they left behind,  the second part is always about their struggles in fitting in, and it is the third and final installment that the and the story goes full circle, connecting the dots, fitting the past with the present.

This is a novel that you read to savour, one you can linger with, not something you read for the suspense or whodunit story arch.  Stripped away of the beautiful prose and the glorious food descriptions,  the story is simple yet somewhat it speaks something, some truth:  it´s an immigrant´s story,  one that reverberates with anyone who has ever left that which is comfortable in search of something---a new life, a better job, an adventure.  And I suppose that is why I  really enjoyed reading this book.

Here is the link to the movie trailer.  Enjoy!

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