More books reviewed
I can’t cook and I’m not a foodie. I can’t tell a passable cooking from a culinary masterpiece. Standard doesn’t bother me as long as my stomach is filled. Ironically, I’d written several articles on food and quite enjoyed the experience. I thought about reading a novel about food to improve my writing on the subject. The first book that caught my attention then was Toast by Nigel Slater. I hesitated about reading it. One day my editor told me that she had decided to stop the food section. As food writing is not my forte, I did not pursue it with other magazines. As for that book, I did not have a reason to read it anymore.A year has passed and I chanced upon another novel about food. This time, a Japanese translated novel titled The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa. When I read the back cover of the book, I was intrigued by the story of a restaurant that serves only one table of customers every day.
Rinko works in a Turkish restaurant. Her dream is to set up her own restaurant with her Indian boyfriend. One day, she comes home and he is gone with everything in the house – including her savings. Shocked and helpless, she returns to her village that she has left 10 years ago when she was 15. Back in the village, she’s reunited with her mother who runs Bar Amour and has a rich lover. But Rinko is not excited to meet her. She counts Hermes the pig and Grand Owl in the attic as her only friends. While nursing her heartbreak, she wonders what she’s going to do with her life. And one day, she decides to turn her dream into reality.
She borrows money from her mum to set up a restaurant. Her childhood hero, Kuma helps her with the setting up and buying of ingredients. She calls her DIY restaurant, The Snail. Her strategy is to serve one table every day and to understand her customers’ palate before cooking. She can only communicate with them by writing as she has lost her voice temporarily after her boyfriend’s shocking disappearance.
Her first customer is Kuma and a miracle happens. Words spread and troubled customers begin flocking to The Snail. More miracles happen and business picks up. But one day, she discovers a secret that leads her to prepare a meal that she can never forget.
I finished reading the 193-pages book in a week during my subway journey to and fro work. Each trip takes about 30 minutes. I’m surprised at my reading speed. Actually, I skimmed through all the descriptions on how Rinko prepares her food. Unless you are into cooking, you will be more interested in her customers than what she cooks for them. But even that didn’t pique my interest for long. A steady stream of unhappy customers who becomes happy after a meal at a so-called magic restaurant does not constitute a plot. I was expecting something to happen and then at page 94, a customer finds a strand of pubic hair in his sandwich. Not quite what I had expected but it’s better than to read a series of smooth sailing events. From page 131 onwards, I was drawn into the story. Dishes like hippo stew and fugu (or blowfish) began to stir my curiosity. A 20-page account of Hermes’ slaughter unsettled me. The thought that Rinko sacrifices her pet friend for a dish was scarier than the detailed description of dismembering the poor pig. Just when I’d almost gotten over the gory images, Rinko shocks me with another morbid act. Instead of saving an injured pigeon, she cooks it and eats it.
The Restaurant of Love Regained is Ito Ogawa’s debut novel. Prior to this, she only writes children’s books. She is not the first Japanese author whose work I’ve read. My first Japanese translated novel was Out by Natsuo Kirino; The novel I’m reading now is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. After a while, I’ve expected a certain degree of perversion or unorthodoxy in Japanese writing. Though this book has a cliché ending, there are two things that keep me wondering. Does Rinko has a liking for the older Kuma? What happens to her
Indian boyfriend? I hope there will be a sequel.