29 November 2015

Salt and Saffron

Author: Kamila Shamsie
Rating: 4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fragrant Potpourri of family, food and storytelling tradition

Funny, delicious and brilliant storytelling. It's as chick as chronological fiction. It is a tale of a not quite twin family told by not quite twin girl heir. All families are crazy and  the longer the family line, higher the craziness. Probably the salt and saffron is in reference to the spice and sweetness of family sagas. There will be moments you would feel the joys and excitement, other times the pain and the sadness and at other  confusion and madness. 

Kamila Shamsie is a great writer. Her previous book Burnt Shadows was a tragedy set from Japan to India to Pakistan. This one travels too but rather than in chronological order it moves in a nice breezy way as an excellent storyteller should. You can float around with her at ease as she travels to Pakistan, India, Britain and America. She mixes a fair blend of potpourri with mixes of society, culture, economics, politics, legacy and youth. Especially the family component is so strong. Only people who come from joint families of aunts uncles grand parents cousins and relatives can understand the craziness of the family sagas. And me for sure can completely relate to the family jokes which you never tire of cracking and secrets which everyone knows but never says so. 

Another important highlight of the story is the love for food and that too home cooked food of secret family recipes served on festivals made by those special people who can not be ever compensated or replaces in your life. The title itself symbolises the relation and importance of salt and saffron just like sweet and salty parts of life and family sagas. 

It's written in simple and suave chick style but at the same time makes you open dictionary. I myself referred to one at least 10-15 times with words like sequitur, ricochet, and many more which got added to my vocabulary. 

Net net just like salt and saffron this book has sweet and salt too, the blend of life and love, which every fine story should have. 

The brilliance of the book can be judged by its quotes and words collection - 

There is no digression, only added detail. 

She taught me the textures of silence, the timbres of it, and sometimes even the taste. 

When Polonius says he'll treat the players as they deserve, and Hamlet says, "Use them after your own honour and dignity; the less they deserve, the more merit in your bounty." Combat abuse with nobility; ill make the other guy look so small. 

I haven't made you cry since that time I told you the only cure was surrounding yourself with dirty undergarments. What did I say MUMPS stood for? Malodorous Underwear Might Provide Succour.

It's a family tradition. When you leave, you leave laughing. 

'No shit, Sherlock, as your Americans would say.' English is capable of such vulgarity. But sometimes that's good. When you live in euphemism you can't speak to people who are accustomed to direct speech. 

As a child I would tell myself things like, If I stay outdoors and brave insects for a whole hour then tomorrow the boating plan will work out. If subsequently the boating plan didn't work out, it would be because I stayed outside only fifty nine minutes, or because I cheated by lathering on calamine lotion afterwards or because mosquitoes died in my dreams that night.     
Was my childhood logic so different from my way of thinking now? If I ask the right questions the answers will come. If the answers don't come it's because I haven't asked the right questions. What about the silences, lift of an eyebrow which changes everything. What about forgotten commas which shape us as much as the exclamation marks? Masood once said 'Why is it that when people exchange recipes they do often forget to mention salt?' 
How the absence of a single ingredient can alter the meal before you. How the absence of a detail can alter a story. 
Salt? How déclassé. I'd have thought you'd season your metaphors with nothing less than saffron. 

Snobbery is based on fear. Not fear if revolution or anything like that. Fear of squalor. Fear of being entirely powerless, entirely overlooked. It's not what what can't empathise with those on the lower rungs of society; the problem is that we can. We can imagine what it feels like to be so deprived, and it's our fear that we could or our children could end up like that which makes us keep our distance from the have-nots. Because at a distance we don't have to think about it. 

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened 
Into the rose garden
My words echo
This, in your mind
(Quoting Yeats is charming, quoting Eliot is showing off.)

I don't believe in love at first sight, and neither do you. But I know, and after today you also know, that sometimes it only takes a few minutes to recognise that a person is capable of breaking your heart. 

A broken heart has more surface area than a heart that is intact. 


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