I love eating, I love reading, and so I love reading about food. And what I like most are books that combine history and food. So when I was browsing in the Brussels Sterling Books bookshop, I was immediately attracted to the beautiful cover of this book and when I leafed through it the scent of lemons seemed to jump from the pages and Italy, with all its culinary and historical attractions beckoned...
It's been quite a while since a non-fiction book gave me such joy as this. The subject itself is fascinating, and since I know the difference between our supermarket-citrons and the real Sicilian thing citrus fruit fascinates me. I will allways ask travelling friends to bring a few of them over when they come from an area "where lemons grow", and I keep being amazed by the rich taste and intensity of these fruits. A visit to the Flower Island of Mainau in Lake Konstanz (the Bodensee) introduced me to my first citrus collection and here I became aware that there was also a story behind them and that they were once quite special and exotic, and that people collected them.
I love this book. The author has the power to transport you straight into an Italian garden, so you can almost taste the fruit. Chapter after chapter she brings on other stories about the history of the lemon and the regions and gardens where it grows, about the history of its cultivation, its origins, its economical importance and the disappearance of this importance, and when she talks about the harvesting of the esrogim, the perfect citrons that the Jews need for their Sukkoth feast, it is as if you are there, sitting next to her.
The book is sprinkled with recipies that tempt you to walk into the kitchen and try them. It is a pleasure to read it, it is beautiful prose, and the short chapters make it perfect for short moments of happiness on dreary days. It will probably make you change your holiday plans and go to Italy instead, but, hey, what a sacrifice...
To be read with a glass of limoncello or a good white Pessac-Léognan (I like them most smelling and tasting of citrons and oranges) with a good percentage of the sémillon grape.
To my eternal shame I never read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the book that made the author famous and without which this book never would have been written. To be totally honest with you, I was allready halfway when I realised that there even was another book ! I will read it, of course, but in a certain way I think I am very happy that I stumbled upon this one first. Because, as the author says on the last page, this is not a prequel or a sequel but a companion. And I loved it.
This is a silent book. The whole atmosphere is one of waiting, of describing the past and the past only, of looking back, of explaining to Harold Fry, who is on his way to Queenie, an old friend. It pictures in a beautiful way, and I know this sounds odd, the last weeks of terminal patients in a hospice for the dying, where everything moves slowly but intensely.
I loved the descriptions of Queenie's sea garden and I think many people are jealous of the way she retired from "real" life to one of contemplation and quiet, but remaining very much a real and complete person. I loved the way the author created the characters of the dying patients that became Queenie's friends, and how they lived the end of their life. And I love how Queenie described her relation with Harold Fry and his son.
This is a soothing book, and one of its strange effects is that it has made me less afraid of dying. It is friendly, it doesn't shout but almost whispers, and it slowly takes you on its trip through time. At the end you just can't put it away anymore, and you shouldn't, it deserves to be finished in one long read.
It is a beautiful book, even if not all that happened in it is beautiful, but it touched my soul, both by its words, it contence as by its style. It was lovely reading from the beginning to the end.
I am very curious about the other one...
This book is about William Avery, a junior officer recently arrived in Calcutta, Jeremiah Blake, an ex-captain turned native and Xavier Mountstuart, a legendary poet. When Mountstuart goes missing, Blake and Avery are sent on a mission to find him, but as the story unravels there is more behind their mission than they thought, adn some people are not really who they seem to be.
The background of this novel is 19th century India, before Great Britain took it over from the Honorouble East India Company, a joint stock company founded to do business with India and China. From 1757 to 1858 its private armies and administrative force ruled large parts of India with the sole purpose of sucking as much money as possible out of it. In this it is a serious historical novel, well researched and I think quite accurate in its descriptions. But most of all it is a fantastic boys book (for adult boys).
It is packed with adventure, the story is very well written and it is a pure joy to read this as you jump from your adult self, interested in social history, to your boyhood self, with mystery, murder and adventure. In short, it is a thrill to read, with sufficient background to make it interesting, but especially with a lot of downright adventure. Lovely. Maybe not for girls. :-) Sorry.
PS MJ Carter is a pseudonym for Miranda Carter, a historian and writer. She is married to John Lanchester, one of my favourite authors.