This month I was quite disheartened since I thought that I would not be able to contribute to the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge. The topic is ‘Take a Trip’ and the review had to be about a book set in a country other than our own. I was particularly looking forward to this and I thought that I would get to read some really good books. Unfortunately it was an extremely busy month, which meant that I couldn’t savour my reading as much as I wanted to. I just was not able to lay hands on something that interested me in any way. Just as I was about to give up hope, my husband got me a book from the library which totally had me hooked. It was The Restaurant of Love Regained, by the Japanese author Ito Ogawa. Originally written in Japanese, this was a version that has been translated by David Karashima. I was quite excited also because the protagonist was a young chef who was opening her own restaurant, which meant a lot of pages devoted to food ! There are several detailed explanations of preparation of dishes which is done so beautifully that it becomes a trial to keep myself from wanting to enter that eatery. All the dishes described are completely foreign to me and it was so interesting to read all that.
Ringo is a 25 yr old who works in a Turkish restaurant and lives with her Indian boy friend. She comes home one day to find that her boyfriend has decamped with all her stuff, leaving her an empty apartment and a vase containing rice bran paste, which had once belonged to her grandmother. Ringo’s devotion to the food and its preparation is evident from the items which she misses the most– “ There was the hundred-year-old pestle and mortar that belonged to my late grandmother, a container made of Japanese cypress that I’d used for keeping rice, a La Creuset enamel pot that I’d bought with my first pay cheque, a set of long-serving chopsticks with extra fine tips I’d found in a specialty store in Kyoto, an Italian paring knife given to me on my twentieth birthday by the owner of an organic-vegetable shop, a comfortable cotton apron, jade gravel I used for making pickled aubergine, and the tradional cast –iron nambu frying pan I’d travelled as far north as Morioka to buy.” She takes stock of her situation and decides to uproot herself once more and move from the city to the village she had grown up in. Since the boyfriend had helped himself to her lifetime earnings also, Ringo is forced to move in with her mother with whom she has always had a very turbulent relationship.
Two constants in Ringo’s new chapter in life are Kuma, a genuinely kind soul who had worked in her school for a short time, and Hermes her mother’s pet pig. With Kuma’s help she starts on the next phase of her life, which is owning a small unique eatery. Ringo decides to source all her ingredients locally which means she has access to some really fresh produce which helps her elevate her dishes to an entirely different level. The eatery space is small and cosy since Ringo plans to make meals only for one pair of customers each day, with the meal uniquely tailored to their specifications. Ringo crafts the menu only after a short consultation with the customer prior to their arrival. Her desire is to give the ultimate culinary experience to her diners. The restaurant is named The Snail.
Through the customers who walk into The Snail, we get an insight into the wonderful role that genuine concern and beautifully prepared food play in a person’s life. As the blurb on the book- jacket says, “ 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.” Ringo’s life takes unexpected twists and turns until she finds her balance and purpose in life.
The Restaurant of Love Regained is a beautifully written book that is also an easy read. The author Ito Ogawa has written several books for children and this is her first novel. That might be the reason why I somehow felt like I was reading a folktale for adults. Ito has a very endearing style of writing. There’s an exuberance and delightful irreverence in the way she describes scenes –“ All of these things filled me with wonder and gratitude and made me want to kiss God on the cheek.”
The author undoubtedly conjures up beautiful images, which I’m sure will look brilliant as water colours, but there’s a lack of an in-depth look at certain incidents, which would have added to the richness of the story. But this is unquestionably an enjoyable book which has been made into a movie called Shokudo katatsumuri (食堂かたつむり)
My only discomfort was with the decision that Ringo takes as per her mother’s wishes towards the end of the story. I couldn’t appreciate in any way the detailed descriptions of Herme’s fate. Apart from that, this book gives us a magical glimpse of Japanese food and its preparation. Ito Ogawa’s words are like cherry blossoms which land delicately on the mind and leaves the reader with a sense of beauty and fragility.