Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Rating: 4.5 Cups of Coffee 

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

Alex's Experience: 

There are so many things I loved about this book: the pacing, the time jumps, the interesting and distinct characters...the list goes on and on. I brought this book along with me on my beach vacation, and I am so glad I did. It was the perfect beach read. It's a book that — in my opinion  shouldn't be devoured in a few hours. The pacing is a bit slow, but trust me, this works for "Kitchens of the Great Midwest." It's not a single story, but rather an intricate web of stories threaded together by the presence of its main character, Eva Thorvald. It's a book that you can take your time reading and still come out of it loving every page.

The main story goes like this: When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, leaves him for a glamorous life filled with exciting travels and fancy wines, she also leaves behind a daughter — Eva. Just as Lars begins to come to terms with his misfortune and becomes determined to be the best father he can be, he dies suddenly, leaving Eva in the care of her aunt and uncle. Even though Lars dies before Eva can speak, she somehow inherits his love of food and cooking. "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" follows the story of Eva's life through the eyes of the people she meets on her way to becoming one of the greatest chefs in the country.

My favorite aspect of this book was the storytelling and the message behind it. Eva's story is told through quick time jumps, which I loved. The jumps are placed perfectly, and they don't make you feel like you missed out on something important between the time that has passed. I also loved that the story constantly switched perspectives. It was so interesting to see how different characters were affected by Eva without her even realizing it. It also made Eva a much fuller character because you end up understanding both the good and bad opinions of her these characters hold, just like the way you would try to understand somebody in real life.

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" is about so many things. It touches on so many themes relevant to real life  poverty, bullying, first love, jealousy, family drama...again, the list goes on  but to me it was mainly about creating your own identity through a passion (in Eva's case, food) and bringing people together through that shared passion. This book will leave you wondering how many people's lives you've changed on your path to identity.


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