I’m a big fan of books that deal with food and cooking. Think Julie and Julia, which remains one of my favorite books (and movies, for that matter) of all time. So despite never having seen the movie, I was excited to read The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel by Richard C. Marais.
But despite my eagerness, I have to admit that I was disappointed.
The novel actually is two stories. The first part of the book tells the story of the Haji family, Muslims who operate a restaurant in pre-World War II Bombay, India. Young Hassan watches his exuberant and frankly, almost overbearing father and gentle, food-loving mother as they take over the restaurant from his grandfather. Hassan grows up smelling the aromas of cumin and turmeric and curry, and learns to cook by watching the family. Eventually, tragedy strikes, and the family is forced to leave Bombay and move elsewhere with some unexpected money.
They first land in England, but that never quite pans out. Eventually, the Haji family’s truck breaks down in a small French village called Lumiere, and Mr. Haji decides that destiny mandates Lumiere is where they stay. He opens up an inexpensive Indian restaurant across the street from a restaurant operated by a well-renowned Michelin two-starred chef. But Madame Mallory will not have it, doing everything in her power to run the Haji family out of town. She becomes particularly enraged when she discovered that young Hussan has a perfect palate.
Once again, tragedy strikes, and Madame Mallory ends up taking the young man under her wing and teaching her everything she knows about cooking.
And then we move on to the second story, which I found, frankly, boring. Haji cooks at a variety of restaurants until he finally opens his own in Paris. He has a series of love affairs which never really amount to anything. There is only a vague tie-in with the previous part of the novel.
One of the main problems that I saw was that the food part of the novel – always my favorite – simply didn’t grab me. Generally when I’m reading a novel dealing with food, I begin yearning for the food being described. It’s true that at the beginning of the book, I craved Indian food. But in the second half of the book, the food descriptions simply didn’t connect with me. There was not much description of the cooking or the enjoyment of the meals. The author simply told us that Hassan made this or that. Boring.
Personally, I would have liked to see either an emphasis on the relationship between Madame Mallory and Hassan, or a more interesting story of Hassan’s time in Paris. The two stories simply seemed disjointed to me.
The book isn’t awful, but I couldn’t overwhelmingly recommend it either.