Strengths: It’s ultimately a happy story that makes you smile.
Weaknesses: Fairly short!
Why I read it: Enjoy Japanese fiction in translation
Publisher: Alma Books
Rating: 9 out of 10
If you liked this, try: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Some books are sad; others depressing. It’s quite rare to come across a book that it is simply optimistic and happy, but The Restaurant of Love Regained is just that. It’s not over the top love-love happy-happy but it makes you realise that in amongst that bad days and the sad days, there are a lot of good ones.
Our protagonist, Rinko, doesn’t have a lot to smile about at the opening of this short but sweet novel. Her boyfriend, who she was planning to open an Indian restaurant with, has up and left her without a word. Her apartment has also been cleaned out and she has no choice but to return to her mother’s house to regroup. Carrying a mortar from her grandmother, she makes a lone, weary bus trip to her small home town. She finds her relationship with her mother somewhat fractious, but with the help of an old friend, opens a tiny restaurant, The Snail. The Snail serves only one meal a day, but it’s a meal that is chosen with the utmost care for the diners. Rinko helps to heal a woman’s grief, unite two young lovers and cure a sick pet. Unfortunately Rinko’s luck hasn’t changed ultimately for the better and she has bad news to bear. Can The Snail and Rinko’s diners help her to heal too?
That brief synopsis may sound cheesy, but the book is beautifully written and translated. The characters are well drawn from Rinko to Hermes the pig and there is obvious love in the joy that Rinko gets from planning the best food for her diners. Food plays a leading role in the book, and some of the descriptions of Rinko’s creations will leave your mouth watering. Food is seen as a bridge to link emotions – to resolve grief, uncertainty and to restore love. The food isn’t all Japanese either – there’s some delicious desserts and meat dishes made. For the more adventurous, a fugu (pufferfish) party is described.
I loved the linking of food – from creating to eating and its link to emotion and conflict resolution. I hadn’t really thought of food that way before – Rinko is the perfect character to explain those thoughts to the reader. This book will have you both smiling and crying at times – definitely a book that deserves a wider audience.