Saturday, September 08, 2012

Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa

One of the side effects of participating in Weekend Cooking is that as soon as I see a book that may be just a little bit food related I instantly look at it to think if it may be a potential Weekend Cooking post. As soon as I saw the title of this particular book, I KNEW it would be! And it is such a delightful read whether you are reading it specifically for that purpose or not!

The Restaurant of Love Regained opens when Rinko comes home to find that her Indian boyfriend has not only dumped her but that he has completely cleaned out the whole apartment. Gone are the furnishings, electronics, pots and pans and the other possessions that accumulate so easily. The only thing left behind was a special container given to Rinko by her grandmother. She feels she has no choice but to return home to the small village where her mother still lives. Rinko’s relationship with her mother was, and still is, very difficult so for Rinko this is a step of desperation. Rinko has always had issues with her mother’s lifestyle, particularly her role as mistress to the local gangster boss, so she tries to stay as distant as possible which is not easy given how small the house and village is.

When Rinko returned to the town, she not only lost her possessions and her livelihood, but she also lost her voice, which adds another level of wistfulness to the book as there is not a lot of external dialogue with other characters, but rather Rinko has to rely on written and other forms of non verbal communication. Initially though, her main companion is her mother’s prized pig Hermes who she has to look after as part of the conditions for her staying in her mother’s home.

Needing to find more ways to occupy her time, Rinko decides that she is going to open a small restaurant, which in due course comes to be known as The Snail. It is different from any other restaurant though because rather than have a menu of multiple dishes available to hordes of customers each day Rinko only accepts one booking each day. She then talks to that client to find out what they are looking for, whether it be a lost love, renewed health for a pet, a new love or something else and cooks a meal using the best ingredients available that suit that particular client. It isn’t too long before Rinko’s reputation spreads as someone who can make dreams come true through her food. The big question though will be whether Rinko can make her own wishes come true, once she knows what those wishes may be.

It really is the food that makes this book come alive. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the locating of the best possible ingredients, the care and time required to prepare a spectacular dish (whether it be simple or complex) or the tastes that come alive as the clients of the restaurant get to eat the food that Rinko has prepared. This would be my favourite part – the eating! Rinko’s food sounds delicious and crosses lots of cultural boundaries. There are lots of mentions of Japanese food but also curries and desserts and so much more.

If there is one aspect of the book that I did struggle with it was with the ending where Rinko found out that she didn’t actually know the truth about her own origins. That part I was okay with, and although sad at the fate of one of the main human characters, I understood what was happening. I wasn’t sure that the fate of one of the non human characters was necessary and even was in context with the rest of the novel. Maybe this was a cultural difference. It certainly wasn’t a moral issue for me, but I imagine it could be for some readers.

The danger with reading a book that was originally written in a different language is that you don’t necessarily know what is the author’s voice and what comes down to translation. There were definitely times during this in this book where I found myself wondering if the writer had deliberately made writing choices or was it the translation getting in the way. For example, at one stage in the book there were five sentences in two paragraphs that started with Then I.... To be fair, these moments were relatively rare but when you start noticing such things you just can’t seem to help but notice it more and in the end I had to go back and count how many Then I sentences there actually were in that short space!

Other than these two small matters though, this was a novel that was full of charm and flavor and was mostly a delight to read. I must give a special shout out to Sam from Samstillreading who originally posted a giveaway of this book! I didn’t win, but I was interested enough to get this book through interlibrary loan.

I did see on a post from Nat at In Spring it is the Dawn that there has actually been a movie made of this book, but I couldn’t find an English translation. It could be quite fun to watch if there is ever a translation done!

Rating 4/5

Returning home from work, Rinko is shocked to find that her flat is totally empty. Gone are her TV set, fridge and furniture, gone are all her kitchen tools, including the old Meiji mortar she has inherited from her grandmother and the Le Creuset casserole she has bought with her first salary. Gone, above all, is her Indian boyfriend, the maĆ®tre d’ of the restaurant next door to the one she works in. She has no choice but to go back to her native village and her mother, on which she turned her back ten years ago as a fifteen-year-old girl.

There she decides to open a very special restaurant, one that serves food for only one couple every day, according to their personal tastes and wishes. A concubine rediscovers her love for life, a girl is able to conquer the heart of her lover, a surly man is transformed into a lovable gentleman – all this happens at the The Snail, the magic restaurant whose delicate food can heal any heartache and help its customers find love again

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  1. This sounds like a fun book. Maybe there's a subtitled version of the movie available somewhere? I recently watched the Swedish version of Girl With a Dragon Tatoo with French subtitles. It made my brain hurt a little bit, but wasn't too hard to keep up.

  2. Oh I really like the sound of this, even with the translation (if that's what they are) problems. And wouldn't it be great to see the movie. I hope they get a subtitle version one of these day.

  3. This is a wonderful review, you made me want to look for this book.

  4. Oh, this book sounds so perfect! I can't wait to get my hands on it. Thanks for writing about it - I'm off to see if my library has a copy!

  5. I think I may have read Nat's post about this as the cover looks familiar. Loved your review. I'm intrigued. I just recently finished a translation of a Ukranian book and I found myself wondering about the author's true voice in a similar fashion. Parts of it were really difficult to understand, although overall it was a terrific read.

  6. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm drooling at the memories of Rinko's food...

  7. I recently read this but I still have to review it. I am one of the people who had issues with the latter part of the book. Otherwise it was a quite lovely read.

  8. Like Uniflame, I am not really happy about this book. It's a very food-driven story, and seen from that perspective, it's really good, but let's just say that it's not excellent reading for vegetarians? :s

  9. I guess food-centered fiction is my idea of comfort reading, a positive thing. It can inspire me to try new recipes and cuisines. This sounds like a good one.

  10. Hi there, the September edition of Books You Loved has now posted. Here is the link Books You Loved September Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

    Ps I am now following your nice blog with Google Reader. If you like Carole's Chatter I would appreciate you following me back.

  11. This one sounds wonderful--I'm always a sucker for a foodie book!