The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book started out with so much promise. Lovely writing about India, the sights and sounds, the food, the people, his experiences growing up. I enjoyed the travels, their adventures in London, finally arriving in a small French village, where the van happens to break down, and they decide to settle. Then I watched the movie, which I loved, and came back to finish the book. That’s when things started to diverge. I know that movies change things, and in this case, I think they made a better story out of it. The way the book depicts the conflict between the Haji family and Madame Mallory, her change of heart seemed most improbable. And once Hassan went to Paris, I thought the book just lost its focus. He left behind a lover, his family, and his Indian roots. And what did he gain from it? 3 Michelin stars and then what? The book raises that issue through bringing in a new character – a chef who commits suicide after losing his 3-star rating. Hassan has been reunited with Margaret after 20 years, but it leaves unanswered what he will do next.

This was an audio-book, and I found it difficult to understand all the French. Things were not translated, though I was able to guess at the name of his restaurant. Reading instead of listening I might have gotten more of it, since I can read French, but I don’t understand spoken French. I was also somewhat put off (being a vegetarian) by all the descriptions of hunting and slaughtering of animals for food.

Anyway, other reviewers have mentioned not liking the second half of the book as well as the beginning, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the movie for that! If you want romance and happy endings, then watch the movie. And, of course, Helen Mirren is wonderful as Madame Mallory.

Book description: Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan Haji first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. When tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. They open an inexpensive Indian cafe opposite an esteemed French restaurant – that of the famous chef Madame Mallory – and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t the kind of book that one can say one “likes.” It is certainly powerful, moving, and thought-provoking. It is written in a style that perhaps removes one from the horrors that are recounted – straight-forward and unemotional. All of the events are real, but it reads like fiction. It may be about poverty, and corruption, desperation and death, but it is also about the fierce competitiveness of survival, hope for a better future, and the occasional triumph of education and information over corruption. I did come to care for the “characters” in the end, and it would be nice to have some kind of follow-up in the future as to what happened to them.

Book description: Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter-Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”-will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.” But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.