Due to time restraints while I work on my own novel, reviews on this site will now comprise a book blurb and a short response.
Food – it’s restorative in so many ways. Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham is a heartfelt book with food as its essence and war as the backdrop. Here’s the blurb:
When the Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of British Restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during the Second World War, Maggie Johnson is close to realising a long-held dream.
But after struggling through government red-tape and triumphantly opening its doors, Maggie’s Kitchen soon encounters a most unexpected problem. Her restaurant has become so popular with London’s exhausted workers, that Maggie simply can’t get enough supplies to keep up with demand for food, without breaking some of the rules.
With the support of locals, and the help of twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, and Janek, a Polish refugee dreaming of returning to his native land, the resourceful Maggie evades the first threats of closure from the Ministry. As she fights to keep her beloved Kitchen open, Maggie also tries desperately to reunite Robbie with his missing father, as well as manage her own family’s expectations. Ultimately, she can no longer ignore the unacknowledged hopes of her own heart, and the discovery that some secrets have the power to change everything.
Tender, heartbreaking and intriguing, Maggie’s Kitchen serves up a slice of wartime life I haven’t before seen in a book. Feeding the masses, with tight restrictions applied by bureaucracy, called for resourcefulness, and Maggie has buckets of that. She’s a wonderful character, full of warmth and compassion, but not afraid to bend the rules where she thinks it’s best. She’s a protector and a provider, and that comes out beautifully in many ways, from the way she takes young Robbie under her wing, to the way she defends her cousin. The broader experience of war is shown through Robbie and Janek, both of whom are separated by loved ones, boosted only by hope, and loyal to the end. The quotes at the start of each chapter give insight into how difficult it was to make-do in this time – I found them fascinating and learnt one or two things as well.
A tale of survival, risk, second chances and starting over, Maggie’s Kitchen is a highly recommended for those who like wartime stories that ride a rollercoaster of danger, but hang on to hope.
Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.