22 Books for the Armchair Traveler
By Monica Ali
"When he looked back, he felt that the death of the Ukrainian was the point at which things began to fall apart," begins Monica Ali's In the Kitchen. "He could not say that it was the cause...because the events that followed seemed to be both inevitable and entirely random, and although he could piece together a narrative sequence and take a kind of comfort in that, he had changed sufficiently by then to realize that it was only a story he could tell, and that stories were not, on the whole, to be trusted."
The he is Gabriel Lightfoot, executive chef, and the kitchen is the high-end, high-stress orchestra of multinational sous-chefs, grill men, and pastry chefs (sometimes a United Nations Assembly, Gabe thinks, sometimes a pirate crew) behind restaurant Jacques, in London's once grand Imperial Hotel. Jacques' kitchen is full of stories, hard-luck tales the staff has brought from Byelorussia, Romania, Moldavia, Liberia, India, the Congo, even France, and amidst these stories, Gabe's life plan—opening his own restaurant, marrying his canny, gorgeous girlfriend Charlie, obliterating his father's provincial worldviews once and for all—begins to unravel like a piece of cloth in the textile mill where his father spent his life. Deeply flawed and wildly sympathetic, obsessed, hypocritical, delusional, humane, Gabriel Lightfoot is an unforgettable protagonist, his descent into lunacy frighteningly recognizable, individual, profound. — Pam Houston
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