Alphabet Soup For Lovers by Anita Nair is a fabulous read. This 200 page food love story is perfect to finish in one sitting. However, the end won’t leave you satiated….you will see😃.
The back cover of the book detail a Malayalee couple – Lena Abraham and KK who own and run a tea plantation on the Anaimalai hills bordering the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is convenient that she is not in love with him and they have a fuss free, placid marriage. The story begins when a famous movie star decides to take a sabbatical and flees to the hills, rents their homestay. Soon romance flares up between Lena and the actor Shoola Pani Dev. A Mills & Boon story; well almost but not quite…🌸.
Anyone who has read the book will tell you that though Lena is the protagonist in the story, she comes only second to Komathi; Akka (sister) as she is fondly called, the Tamilian cook at their house. The story is mostly narrated by Komathi; she has a bitter sweet relationship with Lena, whom she has looked after since the age of six and all through Lena’s fifteen years of marriage. What’s Komathi bitter about? You have to read😊.
Every chapter begins with a carefully selected ingredient or dish; starting with the letter A and goes on till the letter Z, an effort by Komathi to learn and remember the English alphabets, by associating the letters with food. And thus is born the food love story. The names of the food are pronounced in Tamil so a Fenugreek even though starts with F in English comes under the letter W because it is called Wendiyum in Tamil.
As Komathi sees the dalliance grow between her ward and the actor; she wants to protect Lena from the ensuing reality and uses food to convey her thoughts and feelings. Komathi associates the alphabet I with Inji which is Tamil for ginger.
“Too much sweetness is going to cause her indigestion and addle her brains, I think with a snort. And decide, out of a sheer sense of perversity, to make some injikozhambu. A bit of inji in her system will pull her down from the clouds.”
She cooks up food that are known to be aphrodisiacs hoping to ignite the spark between the married couple👩❤️👨. With hundreds of food and only 26 alphabets, the list is carefully made by Komathi. Like for the letter P she says can be pal (milk) or paavakai (bitter gourd); both hold significance for her, but she chooses paavakai “I suppose this is good for me, so I must eat it at least once a week. I don’t care for it either way. I don’t love it or hate it. But that’s how I have become. Both love and hatred draw from the same reservoir of strength.”
When you reach the end, you don’t want Komathi to stop. You want her to talk more about food. You want to hear more stories. Anita Nair waves a magic wand and her words string you along; but sadly since English has only 26 alphabets, they end and you go back to re-read your favourite dishes. I want to eat the sweet rava kesari (a sweet made of semolina)😋, the godumai dosai (dosa made with wheat flour)😘.
A happy coincidence is reading about the liver in the book; in the story Lena’s grandmother refers to it as the most important organ in our body “…making us who we are. it if functions, so do you…With the heart, you invest in another person. With your liver, you invest in yourself and if you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else?” What is the food connection here you ask?
Mutton liver or Eeral as it is called in Tamil maketh Komathi’s E. But as for the human liver, the coincidence is it’s mention in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love as a necessary means to be happy. Ketut Liyer, the Balinese healer advises Liz as she arrives in Bali from India “Why they always look so serious in Yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight at hotel.”😁. Smile in your liver🙃, always wondered why?
This is my second book by Anita Nair. The first book I read years ago was Ladies Coupe; story of 5 women; incredulous stories; you won’t forget anyone of them !! I love Anita Nair’s books, easy to read and good stories.