Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, by Jessica Soffer

Lorca is a teenager who has been suspended from her Manhattan high school after another girl finds her cutting herself in the bathroom. Her self-centered mother, a well-known chef, threatens to send her to boarding school in the next term, but Lorca hopes to change her mother's mind by recreating the best dish her mother ever ate--a Middle Eastern fish dish, masgouf. She begins her search for the retired proprietors of the restaurant where her mother ate the dish, hoping they will teach her how to make it.

Meanwhile, Victoria, one of the Iraqi-American owners of that restaurant, has been widowed. With the loss of her husband, Victoria has become obsessed with the daughter she gave up for adoption decades earlier. Her husband Joseph, with whom she ran the restaurant, had wanted the child, but Victoria feared a baby would come between them. Instead, her adamant refusal to keep the baby drove them apart, at least temporarily. Now she is convinced Joseph had met their daughter and she longs to reconnect as well.

Through Lorca's detective work (aided by bookstore employee Blot) and serendipity, Lorca shows up at Victoria's apartment for a cooking class. The two enjoy each other's company, and as they cook a variety of Middle Eastern dishes, they become convinced they are related (Lorca's mother was adopted). Just as they acknowledge their connection, things falls apart, and both must deal with secrets revealed and hard truths about themselves and those they love.

First-time novelist Jessica Sofer deftly explores themes related to love, loss, and the connections that can save us when the people who should love us don't or can't. Lorca and Victoria are fully realized characters. Lorca wins the reader's heart immediately, but we are more ambivalent about Victoria. While it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand her reasons for to giving up her daughter, we can empathize with her current situation. The other characters in the story are less central but are also well developed; Lorca's mother is as despicable in her own way as Babs in The Chocolate Money--not exactly inspirational reading for the night before Mother's Day. But Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is definitely a more rewarding read.

Favorite passage:
Leaving is the easy part, I wanted to tell her. It's moving on that one gets mired in. It takes years. Decades, actually. It takes tragedy and drama and the most painful part: the haunting feeling of what's lost when it finally starts hurting less.

It wasn't snowing and though it was dusk and slatelike all around us, the sunlessness pouring into the folds between the hungry, reaching branches of the trees, there was lightness in the sky behind the buildings that caught our attention. . . It seemed impossible that the day was on its way somewhere, or had come from somewhere else, unless its intention had always been to show off the sky just as it was then.

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