Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Register or subscribe today
Find more Booklist Backlist
Yeah, sure: Proust and his madeleine-dipped-in-tea set the barometer for toothsome leitmotifs. I admit to the possibility that my academic indoctrination in his long, long musings made me quite the hungry reader. Or maybe I’m just always greedy for nourishment, with preferences in the belly—as well as on the page—tending toward the ethnic. Here are some notable novels published this year that, despite even their most drastic, intense narrative circumstances, left me ravenous and sent me foraging in the kitchen, or, more likely, out to other kitchens. True confession: I’m cooking-averse but eating-obsessed!
Beirut Hellfire Society. By Rawi Hage. 2019. Norton.
For second-generation undertaker Pavlov, death is his inherited livelihood. Like his late father, Pavlov provides the final journey for outcast cadavers no one else will touch. There are corpses, yes, but also a bonfire dinner of meat and meze (small dishes).
The Farm. By Joanne Ramos. 2019. Random.
The clash of race, ethics, class, and ambition drives Ramos’ scintillating debut featuring a luxurious surrogacy facility of providers, buyers, and decision-makers. Among immigrant Filipino childcare providers, pancit (noodles) meals are reminders of loved ones at home.
Nothing to See Here. By Kevin Wilson, 2019. Ecco.
Amidst Wilson’s latest heartstring-tugging, drop-jaw shocking, guffaw-inducing, (can’t resist) highly combustible entertainment, privilege, power, and inequity whorl through the relationship between two unlikely boarding school roommates who reconnect a decade later. Scholarship-enabled Lillian aspires to a future that will allow her a Milky Way bar for breakfast every morning.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. By Ocean Vuong. 2019. Penguin Press.
After escaping Vietnam, Little Dog grows up with his grandmother’s stories of survival, and his mother’s monstrous abuses and unrelenting sacrifices. Writing will save his life. Godiva chocolates sustain his mother, but more memorable are her egg rolls: Vietnamese chả giò; made with rice paper, they differ considerably from other Asian versions.
Parade. By Hiromi Kawakami. Translated by Allison Markin Powell. 2019. Soft Skull.
In this companion title to Man Asian Literary Prize finalist, Strange Weather in Tokyo (2012), a septuagenarian retired high-school teacher and his three-decades-younger former student Tsukiko share a leisurely summer afternoon cooking, eating somen (thin wheat noodles), and sharing memories.
The Plotters. By Un-Su Kim. Translated by Sora Kim-Russell. 2019. Doubleday.
Kim’s dark, dark wit enhances an irresistible sociopolitical parable about a professional assassin that delights and dismays. Rice porridge—called juk, which triggers nurturing memories in every Korean—nourishes the (motherless) killer after a near-fatal encounter.
Queen of Bones. By Teresa Dovalpage. 2019. Soho.
A Cuban refugee returns to Havana with his American wife to confront unfinished relationships from decades past, but the reunions don’t end well. Despite fatal attractions, café con leche—Cuban-style—is the best way to start any morning.
The Shadow King. By Maaza Mengiste. 2019. Norton.
Mengiste channels her great-grandmother who, Mulan-style, answered Emperor Haile Selassie’s demand for first sons to fight against Fascist Italy despite her father’s protestations. As Mussolini and war approach, orphaned servant Hirut matures into womanhood as warrior, shadow king, and survivor. Nourishment proves scarce throughout, but a personal quest for injera (spongy, sourdough flatbread) can’t be denied.
The Stationery Shop. By Marjan Kamali. 2019. Gallery.
Young lovers torn apart by class, politics, and history during the violent tumult of 1950s Iran are forced to endure separate lives. Years later across oceans, the girl, Roya, introduces her Boston husband-to-be to Persian fare with scrumptious koresh-e-bademjan (meat-and-eggplants stew).
Register or subscribe today