Returning home from work, Rinko is shocked to find her flat is totally empty. Gone are her TV set, fridge, and above all, her boyfriend. She has no choice but to go back to her native village and her mother, on which she turned her back 10 years ago. There she decides to open a very special restaurant.
I picked this relatively short book up from my local book group, partly because it had been a while since I had read a) a book with food as a theme b) a book by an Asian Writer. It also doesn’t hurt that as a paper book, it qualifies for one of my 2019 Reading Challenges.
Rinko, having been working at a Turkish Restaurant in the Big City for several years, comes home to find that the flat she shared with her boyfriend had been cleared of everything, including the mortar and pestle left to her by her grandmother. No explanation is given for this desertion – if he left a note, we didn’t see it – and we hear little to nothing of him again.
With nothing left for her in the city, Rinko has little choice to return home for the first time in 10 years, having previously fallen out with her mother. Her newly developed mutism prevents too much dialogue, especially between Rinko and her mother, where they communicated via notes (even though the mother can talk). It’s a useful narrative technique that means the book seems to be lighter (and shorter) as a result.
After several months wallowing in depression and feeding her mother’s pampered pig, she has found her way around the village, sourced foodstuffs, connects with her old friend Kuma, and decided to open up her food establishment. Rather than run a large restaurant, she decides to cook for one booking each time, so she can concentrate on the people themselves and what the booking is for. We get to hear about the different guests, what they eat and why they are there: The solo old woman, the mistress of a now dead local bigwig; two people on their first date; the family who want a birthday party of children’s part food for their elderly father, who they are about to put in a home because of his dementia.
The preparation and serving of each meal is one of the features of the book, but as each meal gets larger, then less detail is provided, so by the time the family meal for the father comes along, you really only find out it’s a “children’s meal” with a few dishes named.
The last section of the book details the slaughter and dissection of the family pig. This is in quite some detail, so if butchery or meat preparation is not your thing this is a book to be avoided.
This is a short book, and even with the absence of much dialogue (Rinko’s mutism keeping this to a minimum), little is explained or expanded with any depth. It seems that Rinko and her mother simply don’t communicate – there seems to be no discussion as to why Rinko left, why she has returned, what happened in the 10 years she was away etc. Her mother is simply a ghost figure for much of the book.
In trying to write this review, and reading other reviews in order to give me some inspiration, all I can say is that I didn’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. It’s a decent read, but I dont think it will remain with me for a long time.