11 July 2007

Book of Rachel

Of Faith and Food

Author: Esther David
Publisher: Penguin
Price: Rs 295
Genre: Fiction

One reason that makes Book of Rachel so special is because it recognizes ‘food’ as a vital factor in creating and sustaining human bonds. Which is why every chapter here begins with a recipe and allows the protagonist to re-visit her life (in a bit of stream of consciousness style) through its ingredients. The very first chapter here has a fish fry recipe.
Semi-autobiographical in nature, Esther describes the life of the middle aged Rachel, a Bene Israel Jew, who has made India her home for years now. Her husband Auron is no more and all her children have migrated to Israel. In spite of repeated pleas from them, Rachel refuses to return to her birthplace. She’s adapted well to the Maharashtrian way of life in a village near Alibaug and doesn’t feel like uprooting herself from a place that carries so many memories for her.
Her days are spent in quotidian serenity, reflecting on the past, looking after the village synagogue and cooking simple yet delectable Bene Israel Jewish food for her visitors.
There’s nothing remarkably unique about Rachel, until you see her putting up a passionate fight to rescue the synagogue from falling in the hands of a few builders. Even though she cannot imagine a life in Israel again, Rachel tenaciously guards a part of her past and the synagogue becomes her strongest connection to her faith.
Some of the novel’s most striking portions are the ones where she interacts with her son’s lawyer-friend Judah, who over time becomes a surrogate son and then her son-in-law. This whole section is very affectionately narrated and there’s a certain heart-warming nestling beauty here, as you watch Rachel preparing hot, lip-smacking food for Judah, as he busies himself with the synagogue case.
Another wonderfully described chapter is the one where Rachel fixes a quick lunch of chappatis and pitthal (pithale in common usage, a dish made out of besan, onions and chilly garlic) for a family friend.
Also, there are some extremely likable chapters where Rachel recollects some bittersweet episodes about her married life. The fact that Esther uses food to bring out the essence in relationships, a facet that has rarely been explored in either films or literature, makes this novel very unique.
-Sandhya Iyer


Qalandar said...

Sounds interesting for sure, I want to check this out now...

This review brought to mind another book that I think you would like: To Know A Woman by Amos Oz...

Shivaprasadshetty said...

Came across this blog while surfing through NG

All the Best Sandy. (I hope to read some movie reviews too)

Janaki said...

Hi, while i did message u on the bk .... i hv more... the book is on faith more than food. Her act of saving the synogogue, is more symbolic of her trying to save everything dear, close to her .... her faith, traditions, her way of doing things, and amongst other things, her way of cooking. The central idea therefore is more of a clinging on to, a way of life a past that she felt was slowly fading away even in her on lifetime. That's touching and intimate.

sandy said...

Yes, I agree Janaki. As you yourself pointed out, it could be something to do with age and the perspective that comes with it. I probably lack that in some ways.

But yes, it's more about faith than food, as you say. It's just that I found that whole aspect about relating food to people and incidents in her life the most interesting part of the book.

I do realise that the synagogue is a symbol of her faith and for all that she holds close to her heart...

I have mentioned that in my review, though I haven't elaborated enough.

Amritbir Kaur said...

Books are a man's best friends as Robert Southey has said. Hoping to read some more interesting reviews on your blog!