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Book Review: Kafka’s Soup – A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes by Mark Crick

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Kafka’s Soup is an odd little book which has been designed to celebrate 14 of the world’s most famous writers. The book contains real recipes written in a style that parodies the work of Raymond Chandler, Jane Austen, Franz Kafka, Irvine Welsh, Proust, Marquez, Steinbeck, Marquis de Sade, Woolf, Homer, Greene, Borges, Pinter, and Chaucer. Jane Austin gives us Tarragon Eggs, Marquez provides a magical Coq au Vin. Homer cooks up Fenkata, and Graham Greene makes Vietnamese Chicken.

The work is assured, and the prose style makes for a good pastiche which reflects the writers' most famous books. Austin’s eggs begin with a similar opening to Pride and Prejudice and focus heavily on the serving of the eggs and relationships between the guests. Kafka’s Miso Soup is infused with an underlying anxiety which is never clearly defined, and follows the outlines of The Metamorphosis. Irvine Welsh’s chocolate cake is written in slang-filled Scottish dialect full of gritty angst, though the actual cake is smooth and silky. Other recipes are similarly rich with the tenure and sense of the writer involved, and will give readers familiar with their work a good chuckle.

The recipes are all real and tested, and are nicely designed, for classic food items. They are all easy to make and fun to serve and talk about with literary-minded friends. But there is a rather jarring mismatch between the culinary concoction and the author it is assigned to. Surely Kafka would never have eaten Miso Soup, and Proust could have had the Coq Au Vin rather than Marquez. Many of the writers that Crick chooses write about food in their work, and the book could have been improved significantly by using a food item that actually appears in the work being chosen. The obvious choice for Proust would then be Madeleines, while for Chaucer, we could have Spicerye Sauce (from The Canterbury Tales) rather than Onion Tart and Rich Sultana Bread for Woolf (mentioned in The Waves). It is hard to enjoy a full sensual experience when the foods are so different from those that the writers would have eaten or described. 

That said, Kafka’s Soup is still a well-researched, fun book, with an original premise and text that is often very clever. A nice touch is that each recipe is illustrated by Crick with an accompanying picture – from the noir cartoons of Chandler, soft watercolour images for Austin, or the stained glass picture of Chaucer after his Onion Tart. The book is beautifully presented in hardcover format, and the accompanying images make it attractive enough to give to someone as a gift.  Each recipe contains a hefty serving of humour, which is reflected in both the prose, and in the illustration. The recipes work, and so does the prose, though the sustenance it provides is relatively minor.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.