Friday, August 12, 2011

'The Restaurant of Love Regained' by Ito Ogawa

Original title: 食堂かたつむり
(Shokudou Katatsumuri)
Translated from the Japanese by David Karashima
Fiction, Published in Japan in 2008
(English translation, 2011)
Alma Books, trade pb, 193 p.
Source: From the publisher, Alma Books
From the back cover:
An extraordinary novel about food, love and the relationship between mother and daughter.

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 maître 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.
I haven’t actually read too many foodie books but I’m always up for discovering more contemporary Japanese literature, and the premise of this one intrigued me – such a unique restaurant idea. Like I mentioned in my preview of this book, reading The Restaurant of Love Regained kept making me hungry. Now having read the book, I wish I could experience this special restaurant for myself!

Food is certainly the focus of the novel, from the ingredients, to the preparation, to the pleasure of eating. Each meal is so thoughtfully, and lovingly made. The book is like a love letter to slow food, and home cooking. And going back to the traditional way of doing things, but with a touch of international flavour too.

The main character, Rinko, prepares dishes from all over the world but there is a definite Japanese feel to the story as well, with elements of Japanese tradition and beliefs showing up here and there, and in the writing itself. I suppose what I mean about the writing is that it had some of that sparseness, and lack of extraneous detail that I often associate with Japanese literature. In this case, most of the story is in fact short anecdotes, recounting the various meals and customers that visit her restaurant. I do have to admit that at first I found some of the transitions a little abrupt, but once I got used to it, and looked at is as a series of episodes, that didn’t bother me so much.

These individual little stories were framed by the mother-daughter relationship, which provides the narrative thread running through the novel. After finding her life turned upside down and forced to return to the small village she escaped from several years before, Rinko must start her life over again. The restaurant helps her to do that, and in the process, helps to mend the strained relationship with her mother. In the end, I was surprisingly touched by the characters.

The Restaurant of Love Regained is, of course, fiction. It's not a cookbook. And as such there were no detailed recipes. The book described some wonderful-sounding dishes though and I would love to see an accompanying cookbook filled with glossy photos! It has been made into movie, which from the trailer looks a little cheesy, but a potential visual feast for the eyes too. (Click on the image below to watch the trailer). All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and I think worth reading for foodies and Japanophiles.


For more information, and to read an excerpt from The Restaurant of Love Regained, visit the Alma Books website.
For a thoughtful review, visit Damian Flanagan's Blog.

Buy The Restaurant of Love Regained at: BookDepository.com | BookDepository.co.uk | Amazon.co.uk



The small print: This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.

5 comments:

  1. I like the sound of this book. Must check it out!

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  2. My mouth is watering just reading your review. I really want to read this, but no library in the entire of Nova Scotia has it :-(

    I'll have to put it on my 'buy' list...

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  3. I had already placed this book on my wish list, but now I only want to read it more :)

    Do you happen to know if the movie comes with English subtitles?

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  4. Lately I have really been drawn to foody books... this one looks so good!

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  5. This sounds like a wonderful book! I need to see if I can find it around here anywhere.

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