Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais--See the Book-to-Movie in Theaters 08-08-14!

The Hundred-Foot Journey
by Richard C. Morais. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     My mom was always trying to teach me something. She took all four of us kids to the grocery story every week to do the shopping--every trip she'd give us a lesson like unit pricing, how to pick a sweet, ripe watermelon, or how to check the expiration date on milk. Her lessons about food changed one day when she came home with a cookbook for kids. She had me sit with her and we looked through the pages at all the things an eight-year-old could learn to cook. 

     I saw something wonderful! It was a recipe for "Framed Eggs." I had never seen anything like it before and was entranced by its uniqueness. I told my mother I wanted to make the Framed Egg recipe, and she quickly agreed, showing the enthusiasm I felt inside, too. Saturday morning arrived and we sat down to look at the recipe book. She told me that, "Even if you don't know how to cook something, a recipe can tell you how to do it. All you have to do is read it carefully...before you do it." She had me read the ingredients from the list and I got the bread, eggs, butter, and salt and pepper out--also the frying pan, spatula and table knife. 

A Framed Egg with fresh-grilled
sausage patties. 
When she was a
young girl, I taught my daughter how
to make something almost any kid can
learn to cook--a framed egg. She is
visiting me this week, and when the
nostalgia bug bit her, she whipped
up this rustic Americana simple
fare for us to have for a quick
breakfast this morning. Thank
you, My Darling Girl!
     Next, as I read the directions to her, my mother did the steps to show me how to read the recipe. She cooked the Framed Egg, then she handed me the spatula and told me that it was my turn. I got a chair so I could be tall enough to reach the frying pan and did the directions as she read them to me. I was so afraid it wouldn't work for me because I had the idea that things only worked for adults; adults could do things, kids couldn't. Carefully, I turned over the toast and egg...Oh, my God, I could hardly believe it!...Success! It looked so beautiful and I had actually done it by myself. I felt such a sense of accomplishment that I was bursting with pride. 

     We sat down and ate our Framed Eggs together, the buttery toast, and the egg yolk soaking into the toast--so delicious. After this success, I tried other kid-tested recipes from the book with great (and, sometimes, not so great) success. 

     I felt so connected to my mother in  the joy and success and enthusiasm for this new ability I had gained. She gave me a new sense of self, enthusiasm for learning and cooking, knowledge and how I could gain more by reading. First, she modeled the behavior and then allowed me to do it.  I was  filled with joy. Thank you, mom, for your encouragement and enthusiasm, for sharing this activity with me, and for your love. I will forever appreciate and love you for teaching me to love learning.

     My mom may not have a teaching credential, but she is the best teacher I've ever had. I loved how she taught me and encouraged me so much, that when I grew up, I wanted to be a teacher like her. I eventually received my credential and now work as a middle-school teacher, following my mother's legacy of teaching children how to love learning. I still love food and cooking, too. --Maryam Powers.

     NOTEThe, above, story was written by my daughter, teacher and author, Maryam Powers, of Harden Middle School in Salinas, California.  I am so proud of my daughter that she teaches young people English and English as a Second Language. She is an absolutely wonderful teacher. She touched my heart when she agreed to write the introduction to today's post about one of her food memories to introduce the book, The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais. That she wrote this story about me dumbfounds me and leaves me speechless. Thank you, my beautiful daughter.
Crawford Market, Mumbai, India. [3]
     Hassan Haji (a fictional character) tells us of his life's journey from the streets of Mumbai to the dining rooms of Paris. Hassan was born into a large family in Mumbai, and his parents' work at creating a small restaurant provided the foundation for Hassan's love of food. Hassan and his mother frequented the local markets to purchase fresh vegetables, fish, meat, spices, and fruit--all the while teaching Hassan how to select good food and produce. Hassan recounts the vibrant colors, tastes, and aromas that fill his memories of a Mumbai childhood. 

     Then, a horrific tragedy takes Hassan's mother's life, and the family flees India to settle in England for a while. Disenchantment pushes the family to Europe where they begin eating their way around various countries, until, at last, soul weary and desiring a place to put down roots, the family stops in the little French village of Lumière, in the French Alps. They purchase a small building across the street from from a two star restaurant run by a famous chef, Madame Mallory.

Vanoise, French Alps. [4]
     Almost immediately, the Haji family and Mme. Mallory clash. Mme. Mallory can't stand the celebratory noise and colors, or the spicy smells coming from the restaurant across the way. She wants the family to take their "bad taste" back to India and leave the French Alps to her. When Hassan's father gets to the local market first and gets all the best fish, produce, and other delicacies, Mme. Mallory becomes incensed and confronts Hassan's father. A small war begins.

     During another confrontation, a second horrible event occurs, leaving Hassan in the hospital to recuperate. No longer having Hassan to cook, his father closes the restaurant. Hassan's father then decides to take the family and leave Lumière after Hassan gets out of the hospital. Mme. Mallory has a change of heart, so she decides to strike while the iron is hot. The world-class two star chef stages a "sit in" in the front yard of the family restaurant--ironically, adopting Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful protest against the Indian family. 

A scene from a rooftop restaurant in
 Paris, France. [5]
     Eventually, the father gives in and Hassan makes the "Hundred-Foot Journey" across the street to Mme. Mallory's relais, where he will learn to cook in the French style. After a few years of Mme. Mallory's tutelage, Hassan is called to Paris to begin his career as a chef. More adventures are had in the City That Never Sleeps, and as Hassan works his way into middle age, success comes to the once-culinary student of Mme. Mallory.

     WHAT WORKED FOR ME: First, the themes in this book impact, literally, everyone. Food, needed for life, itself, permeates all the corners of our lives. We live on the memories we had as children, and Richard C. Morais, has demonstrated that he, "gets it."

     Hassan's memories of the sights, sounds, smells, and even kinesthetic touching and gustatory tasting of food fill the pages with such enthusiasm, beauty, and sensual arousal that I could not help falling in love with the descriptions of Hassan's memories. Morais' prose devoured me!

    Second, another thing Morais, "gets," is the sense of family. How precious the relationship between Hassan and his mother is--the tender sharing of a trip to the market or the special splurge out to eat something decadent. Family, working together in the restaurant, pulling together to not only survive, but to grow, to improve their lot, to provide a nurturing environment to family members and members of the community who come to eat at their restaurant is nothing short of inspirational.

     Even when one member begins having, "difficulties," coping with life, she is not abandoned, but lovingly cared for and kept with them. When the mother dies, the father takes over and though he is grieving, continues to love and care for his family, removing them from an environment that has become dangerous.

     Third, the theme of "teaching" a child at a parent's knee, or in this case, the whole family's knee(s), is so important to having a healthy, well-adjusted child who can grow up and not turn to a life of crime, drugs, and alcohol, etc. Morais paints the picture of family members teaching Hassan things, notably, about cooking, and having the added benefit of giving Hassan a love for family, food, learning, and a passion for cooking food. My daughter and her story about how she learned to love and have passion for food, cooking, and teaching is a great example of a child learning in the kitchen and dining room of the home. For Hassan, it was so.

    Fourth, the pages are filled with exuberance, passion, and a profound delicacy. I found myself reading the book much as if I were dining and eating a gourmet meal. The story satiated my palate, and stilled my hunger. The story is so charming and heart-warming I found myself reading without stopping. It won me over.

Just saying.... [8]
     In spite of the wonderful things I've said, just above, some things about the book just didn't work for me. The most notable thing, or maybe I should say, what bothered me the most, was that the book seemed to change tone at about 66% (two-thirds) through the book. It happens when Hassan has completed his training and leaves for Paris to work as a chef. At this junction, we mostly leave all the characters behind that we had come to love, abandoning them to the past. Hassan goes off with a single sister and engages in a life unlike the previous one. 

     While the writing is still good writing, the tone, itself, changes. We don't have the exuberance, passion, and joyous abandon with food and cooking, but rather one man's struggle to become a three-star chef. The things that I loved about the first two-thirds of the book, food, family (and the individual characters we've come to love), teaching and learning, and the exuberance and love of life and living seems abandoned in the latter third of the book. It almost seems like two different books, two different stories.

I think I would have chosen to end The
Hundred-Foot Journey
 with Hassan
getting his offer to go to Paris. [9]
     Second, I do realize that not all stories, especially fictional ones, end well. It does, however, seem a little incongruous that two people (Hassan and his sister) from such a large, gregarious family as the Haji family, who love people and like having people around, never find partners with whom to have a family. Also, I know this isn't a story about a "romance," in the traditional sense of the word, but, come on, Hassan likes women and has several "romances," so why not let him have a family to continue the family traditions? I guess, I just would have preferred the two to find marital partners. It does seem out of character for Hassan and his sister to not find someone.

And I remember, so well, that moment when she clapped her hands in his and Papa pulled her to her feet with a grunt, the way my maitresse slowly and creakily rose from her courtyard chair. This, too, I remember....And so, next day, Auntie and Mehtab helped me pack my bag and I crossed the street. A lot of emotion went into that hundred-foot journey, cardboard suitcase in hand, from one side of Lumiere's boulevard to the other. Before me the sugar-dusted willow tree, the leaded windows and the lace curtains, the elegant inn where even the warped were soaked in great French traditions. And there, standing on LeSaule Pleureur's stone steps in white aprons, the taciturn Madame Mallory and kind Monsieur Leblanc, an elderly couple waiting with outstretched hands for their newly adopted son. (p. 133)
 Obviously, this quote highlights the title of the book. We see that the hundred-feet really is much, much longer than a simple hundred feet. It is mountain ranges, rivers, valleys and countries away from LeSaule Pleureur, miles and miles from where the journey began. I enjoyed Richard C. Morais' creative use of the journey across the street, a mere hundred-feet, as a metaphorical journey as well as a literal one. Darling, really.

     The book-to-movie comes to the big-screen August 8, 2014. I can hardly wait to see how the movie-makers have adapted the book to the movie for us. Helen Mirren, a wonderful actress, stars as Madame Mallory, and, of course, Om Puri will play Hassam's father, Papa Kadam--I can hardly wait to see the two stars tilting at one another on the big screen. Other actors include Rohan Chand as the young Hassan, and Manish Dayal as Hassan Haji, and Charlotte Le Bon as Marguerite. Writing credits go to Richard C. Morais (book) and Steven Knight (screenplay), Directing the film is Lasse Hallstrom.

     Please feel free to have a look at the trailer I found for The Hundred-Foot Journey for you from YouTube. I hope you enjoy it, I did. [12]

    Since the movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, is rated (MPAA) as PG, I believe the book should be considered PG for parents looking to guide their children in their movie and book selections. The movie has been rated PG for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality. [13] In the book, at least one death (murder) occurs, so parents be cautioned. This caution, likewise, should be applicable to persons of a sensitive nature. For all adults of a mature age and of the target audience, the movie should not only be appropriate, but wonderful!

For all the reasons I gave, above, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. 
4 stars out of 5. [14]
     I can't stress strongly enough, how very much I loved the first two-thirds of the book. It is simply full of...how did I put it? Ah, yes, here's what I said, above: "Hassan's memories of the sights, sounds, smells, and even kinesthetic touching and gustatory tasting of food fill the pages with such enthusiasm, beauty, and sensual arousal that I could not help falling in love with the descriptions of Hassan's memories."

I thought a quote by the incomparable Julia
Child would be appropriate for today's post.[15]

     Thank you for joining me this week as we took a look at the book-to-movie book coming to the big screen on August 8, 2014. I know I will be joining my family that day watching this (hopefully) joyous, passionate movie. The trailer looks good, so I will keep my fingers crossed.

     Please join me again, next week as we look at another interesting book and discover what the pages hold for us. I hope to see you then. Please read something this week, even just a few minutes a day. You will be immeasurably enriched. Take time this week to be inspired by your family members; appreciate them for who they are, give them a hug, and say something kind to them. Have a meal together, and feel passion for something and let joy flow into you. To all of you, I send my love. 

Until next time...
A double white Rose of Sharon. [16]

...many happy pages of reading.


[1] "The Hundred-Foot Journey." amazon.com. Retrieved 07-15-14.
[2] "To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever." positivepins.com. Retrieved 07-16-14.
[3] "Crawford Market, Mumbai, India." flickr.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[4] "12-Vanoise, French Alps." worldinsidepictures.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[5] "Gilles' Choice for Paris Restaurants with a View." declic.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[6] "Family." ppmapartments.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[7] "Indian Family Eating Dinner." butterchickenindian.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[8] "It Just Didn't Work Out." tentonhammer.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[9] "If You Want A Happy Ending...." thethingswesay.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[10] "How to Make Your Favorite Quote Into a Picture File." sisterswhocan.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[11] "Never Judge A Book by its Movie." emilyecrivainereviews.blogspot.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[12] "The Hundred-Foot Journey." youtube.com. Retrieved 07-16-14.
[13] "MPAA Rating." imdb.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[14] "CSS Stars." [4 Stars out of 5] css-stars.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[15] "Knock-knock! Who's There?" [Julia Child Quote] beeiteversohumble.wordpress.com. Retrieved 07-17-14.
[16] "Pictures From my Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 06-18-14.