One might think this is just another story of love, loss and life’s lessons. Boh, one might say with a dismissive wave of the hand, there are plenty of stories like that around. What makes this one different is a combination of straightforward storytelling interspersed with bits of philosophical musings and of course a lot of mystery.
It was yet another book I had chosen at random. How can I resist a book with such a beguiling name? It whispered of long ago times, of adventure and desire – all key ingredients in my own recipe of a good book.
The story begins with a life changing event. Luciano, a young orphan living on the streets is taken under the protection of none other than the Doge’s personal chef, the Maestro. The time is 1498 and the city is Venice, home of religious upheavals and dazzling opulence. It is in the Doge’s kitchen that Luciano finds out about the book, a magnificent object coveted by the rich and powerful. Even though many are looking for it, nobody actually knows what it contains and imagination fills in the gaps until it seems this precious object is some sort of key to a Pandora’s Box of desires. Some want it to get rich, believing it contains secrets of alchemy, some believe it can bring them love and others, immortality.
The search becomes so desperate that the whole city is in turmoil, people are imprisoned and tortured, forced to run for their lives. Luciano is soon caught in a web of intrigue and only his streetwise instincts manage to save his life. Although only a boy, he is forced to make decisions that will greatly influence his future life. In love with Francesca, a beautiful girl confined to a monastery, devoted to Marco and Domingo, his friends on the street, and also to his Maestro, who seems to be more than his mentor, the young boy goes through a myriad of adventures, learns a few hard lessons together with some interesting cooking secrets.
Ah, the food! To say this is a book about cooking would not be entirely accurate and yet the mentioning of delicious culinary concoctions and the smell of spices pervade nearly every page with a tantalizing subtlety bordering on erotic. The way the author describes various dishes and their effects on those who eat them give the impression that this in no less than some sort of magic. It reminded me of the movie Chocolat – wouldn’t it be amazing to have such power over people’s senses and all through food!
This book was a feast, one page at a time. I devoured it in two days, reading in every spare moment, resenting the times when I had to stop (life does get in the way sometimes), eager to get back to it at the earliest opportunity. The story is engaging, the words just flow and even though this is no intricate volume to ponder over and dissect, it satisfied my appetite for a good story from the beginning to the end.
*Read in July 2011