Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while but after a run of books focusing on the Nazi regime, I held off reading it until I was ready. When I finally picked up the novel, I discovered a quirky character tale that lingered with me. Here’s the blurb:
Aged 105, Rose has endured more than her fair share of hardships – the Armenian genocide, the Nazi regime, and the delirium of Maoism.Yet somehow, despite all the suffering, Rose never loses her joie de vivre. Quirky and eccentric, Himmler’s Cook is a picaresque tale of survival, as Giesbert depicts Rose’s unique life experiences – cook for Himmler, confidante to Hitler, and friend of Simone de Beauvoir. The novel tells the epic tale of an inspiring, resilient Marseillaise chef who embodies the sentiment of what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Himmler’s Cook is flavoured with wit, eccentricity and the spice of hardship. Rose, the sprightly but elderly narrator, spins a yarn that moves from bittersweet to darkly humorous as she recounts turning points in her life. Her storytelling is chatty and verging on matter-of-fact as she recalls tragic, life-changing events of long ago, such as the loss of her family in the Armenian genocide, being used as a sex slave before she was a teenager, and the devastating moment when her children are taken away upon the breakdown of her marriage. You’d expect this Glock-toting old woman to be wallowing in self-pity, but she’s not about to let a pity party stop her from living a long life. How reliable is her narrative? It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s still a ripper of a fireside story.
Rose is your typical anti-heroine, with skewed morals and a propensity for revenge, but while some of her behaviour is disturbing, she’s a strangely attractive character. You almost wonder why you like her, but you do anyway. Here’s a little insight:
‘At my great age, I have discovered that people are much more alive in you once they’re dead. So dying does not mean the end; on the contrary, it means rebirth in other people’s minds.’
‘History is a bitch. She has taken everything from me. My children. My parents. My great, true love. My cats. I don’t understand the stupid veneration that the human race feels for her.’
Rose’s story is infused with a celebration of food – she learns to cook at a young age and ends up running a successful restaurant. Indeed, food also becomes a method for exacting revenge on more than one person who had it coming in her eyes.
A clever and thought-provoking tale, Himmler’s Cook is one for those who like a dash of literary and a dollop of black humour served with their fiction. Look out for the Provencal recipes at the end of the tale.
Available from good bookstores (Atlantic RRP $27.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.