Monday, April 7, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais

Richard C. Morais. The Hundred-Foot Journey. New York: Scribner, 2011. 245 pages. ISBN 9781439165652.

Hassan Haji was born in India and grew up in a family of restaurateurs. His grandfather built the first restaurant, and his parents have carried on the family business. As Muslims, Hassan's family fell victim to anti-Muslim violence in the 1960s; Hassan's mother was killed and their restaurant burned to the ground. In response, Hassan's father sold their land and moved the whole family to London. The family's stay in London was short, and filled with sadness and depression. A fallout with extended family members inspire Hassan's father to pick up and tour the continent, and they finally settle down in Lumiere, a village in France, where the family buys a beautiful old house and establish an Indian restaurant.

It doesn't take long before Hassan's father begins to ruffle feathers in Lumiere, beginning with the owner of a classy French restaurant across the street. They begin to compete in the markets over who gets to buy the best produce and fish, and then they begin to bicker over noise and other issues. This culminates in a horrific accident that results in everyone coming to their senses, and Madame Mallory, the owner of the restaurant across the street, takes Hassan on as an apprentice. The rest of the novel tells how he became an accomplished chef and after moving to Paris, eventually opens his own restaurant.

I really enjoyed this story, along with the mix of cultures and descriptions of the cuisines and various dishes. This is a very accomplished first novel, although it isn't without a few loose ends that I would like to have seen tied up. For example, the accident that brings the neighbors together was a kitchen fire in which Hassan was badly burned, enough that he required skin grafts. However, after that scene, the fire or his injuries were never mentioned again. One wonders how his burns may have affected his life. Nevertheless, these are minor points; the book is captivating and well-written. I recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary fiction. It's been made into a movie starring Helen Mirren which is slated to come out in August 2014.

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