Monday, November 25, 2013

A Feast of Words

Every year I go back home for Thanksgiving and every year I take a few books with me to pass the time in between food and family and football. Here are a couple of books that have food at their center. You might pick one of them up if you're looking for something to sate your mind after your belly is full.

John Saturnall's Feast
By Lawrence Norfolk

"A true feast has mysteries for parts, some clear to discern and others running deeper. Its dishes speak in tongues to baffle a scholar yet a humble cook must decipher them all."

In 1625 John lives with his mother in a village until an angry mob chases them into a nearby wood. John doesn't know why the villagers are angry, but he does know that the wood is a place named for a witch. "Old Buccla had witched the whole Vale with her Feast, they said." Living in the wood, his mother begins to teach him how to live off the land, and to stay true to old ways. He discovers that there is indeed a feast on the land, but even that cannot save his mother when winter comes.

Soon John must make his way alone to search for work in the nearby manor house. Finding a place in the kitchens, it's not long before his talent for cooking is noticed. The longer he stays in this world, however, the more complicated things become. When he becomes entangled with Lady Lucretia, he learns that the rules are different when it comes to the highborn. And when soldiers come to the valley, John must do what he can to protect the land that provides for his feasts.

This is a historical novel with fact weaved into myth and chapters interspersed with recipes from John's book. These aren't really recipes you're likely to find on your Thanksgiving table, but who knows when you'll need to know how to cook a wild boar?

The Dinner
By Herman Koch

Hopefully your own Thanksgiving dinner won't be as uncomfortable as this one. It begins simply enough with the line, "We were going out to dinner." From there, it becomes a mystery. What exactly is going on here? At first you're drawn into the narrator's point of view. He's a little sardonic and critical of the world around him, but his thoughts probably don't stray too far from ones you've had yourself. Soon, however, you discover that his family is keeping a secret. As four adults have dinner around a table, drinking expensive wine and eating tiny portions, there is a lot that is not being said. Through flashbacks and the narrator's straying thoughts you find out exactly why these people are going out to dinner. And you may never look at a table of diners the same way again.

To request these books click the titles or covers above.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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