Elza’s Kitchen Synopsis
For years, Elza has managed to get by. She has her own little restaurant in the Hungarian city of Delibab cooking quality versions of her country’s classics and serving them with a smile. But lately her smile has become tired. She is weary of serving the same customers the same dishes, and the loveless affair with her sous-chef is now an irritation.
With her country in a state of transition from communism to capitalism, Elza embarks upon her own change. She decides to woo The Critic, one of the harshest, most powerful restaurant columnists in Europe, in the hope of landing a glowing review that will push her above the competition. But as relationships in the kitchen sour, the food threatens to turn with them, and not even Elza’s strained composure can prevent the chaos that seems fated to engulf her.
Filled with charm and humour, Elza’s Kitchen is a wonderful celebration of culture and cuisine, serving up all the heat, sensual delights and rich atmosphere of the restaurant itself. Resisting the comfortable pattern of her old life, Elza finds that true joy – and love – can be hidden in the most surprising of places. (Bloomsbury)
I found the novel Elza’s Kitchen by Marc Fitten somewhat of a quandary.
In Elza, Fitten has created a very intriguing character, bringing her to life with original and evocative prose.
For weeks, Elza carried her feelings around as though she were carrying a pot of steaming soup through a crowded room. This pot was filled to the brim, and unwieldy, and Elza felt herself barely capable of keeping the sloshing contents from pouring over her guests or herself.
… However, she could also not help but think she was carrying the answer to her own crisis inside that pot. A dumpling of hope sunk deep in the Pandora’s mix, as it were. She knew the only way to get to it would be to let the pot go. But the mess, she thought. The stinking mess.
Fitten’s descriptions of Hungarian dishes, a cuisine I would not normally be drawn to, we’re absolutely mouth watering – almost salacious.
It is steamy in Elza’s Kitchen but for my tastes Marc Fitten’s recipe was missing an ingredient.
What was missing? A cohesive and balanced plot. The story centred on Elza started strongly but lost its way a little (and my intense engagement) in the middle section where the focus turned to external parties. There was a reprisal of sorts in the conclusion as the spotlight returned to Elza but even that was a little rushed for my liking.
I did like the offbeat and whimsical tone of the novel, for example the way most characters are identified by their roles rather than their given names, for example The Sous Chef and The Critic. The mood was similar to that of Julia Stuart’s The Matchmaker of Perigord.
In Elza’s Kitchen Marc Fitten’s talent in describing people and their surrounds through a unique and interesting lens is on full display. More time spent on the initial plotting may have brought together the many tasty morsels in a way that produced a more compelling and rewarding novel.
BOOK RATING: The Story 2.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Author Information: Marc Fitten was born in Brooklyn in 1974 to Panamanian parents. He spent much of the 1990s living and travelling in Europe, based in Hungary. He’s been published in Prairie Schooner, The Louisville Review, and the Hogtown Creek Review, and has published a napkin online at Esquire. Marc is a PhD student at Georgia State University and received the Paul Bowles Fellowship for Fiction. He is currently the editor of The Chattahoochee Review, Atlanta’s oldest journal. Marc Fitten’s first novel, Valeria’s Last Stand, was also set in Hungary.
– Read an interview with Marc Fitten on Elza’s Kitchen at Intelligent Travel
* My receiving a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for review purposes did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions on this title.