Strengths: Fun with some very good life lessons.
Weaknesses: It’s not always happy (but then what is?)
Why I read it: Sent to me by Bloomsbury ANZ – thank you!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Elza’s Kitchen is a fairly short book, but don’t misjudge it for its size. It packs a powerful punch in terms of life lessons all wrapped in a simple and delightful story. Even if you don’t like to cook or find food boring, you’ll enjoy this book.
Elza is the owner of a small restaurant in Delibab, Hungary. It would be fair to say that her life has fallen into a rut of late. She sees the same customers in her restaurant. Her relationship with the Sous Chef is dull. Her menu is unchanging. So Elza decides to change things, by asking The Critic of a famed food journal to visit her restaurant and rate it. As she prepares for his visit, everything seems to go awry. Her relationship dissolves, her workers turn against her and the customers stay away. Elza needs to look at what she has and how to change it.
How Elza goes about changing her bad fortune into good (or at least tolerable) is admirable. Fitten doesn’t use any magical plot devices here – all of what Elza achieves could be done by any one of us and I think that’s where the magic in this book lies. Forget your self-help books; Elza is a role model for making great lemonade from life’s lemons. Likewise, Elza’s mishaps – a true accident, failing relationships and work issues are something that every one of us faces. Elza’s also not perfect herself – she comes across as rather naïve and gullible at times which makes her a much more believable character.
Fitten has also intrigued me by not giving all of his characters Christian names. For example, The Sous Chef is not referred to by name, despite being Elza’s partner (life and business) for years! Yet his new girlfriend is referred to as Nora, rather than ‘The Pastry Chef’. Likewise, The Critic is not referred to by name but the young boys who hang around Elza’s restaurant are. It’s interesting to try and work out why – many of these people play a pivotal role in Elza’s life, so why don’t they deserve a name? Is The Sous Chef so criminal in his betrayal of Elza? Or is he just a passing fad, not worthy of naming?
I came away with a smile on my face after reading this delightful book and a yearning for some home cooked food.