This story is deeply disturbing and brutal, yet also moving and even hopeful. It is a terrific audio book, despite the difficult themes, and at times, feels like an evil voice in your head that you just can't shake. Not for the faint of heart - the book is graphic and explicit, painfully so almost throughout. But then you think, this is surely someone's reality, and you are shamed from turning it off.
I decided to listen to this book because it is read by Alice Waters. While she cannot really compare to the many wonderful, professionally-trained actors who read audiobooks, I still enjoyed hearing the story from her. She is in her 70s now, I think, and there is something mind-blowing about hearing someone that age talk about how she payed for the building that is now Chez Panisse with the help of parents, friends, and some "un-named dope dealers." How she came to be such a culinary legend is a truly roundabout and fascinating story, and you should listen to it just to hear the names of all the people who dropped by before they were famous. Also, in perhaps the biggest understatement of the book, she admits turning down a dinner with her friend John Kott while she was living in London - he was in town to interview John Lennon (in 1967 or so), and she was too overwhelmed by the thought to join them for dinner. She admits, "in hindsight, that was probably a mistake." Her love of food is contagious, and her rapture about garlic and fresh-picked lettuce made my mouth water — has your mouth ever watered for the taste of lettuce? That's impressive. Her kitchen is a legendary rite of passage for some of the biggest names in the Slow Food movement. If you are any kind of cook or foodie, you will love this story.
I'm not going to lie; this book will break your heart. To be honest, it knocked me flat every time I returned to it until I finished, but the writing was beautiful and there were plenty of characters to love (and hate) in this wrenching story. I'm not sure what was more overwhelming, the emotional or the physical, but be warned, there is some very graphic violence. But don't be dissuaded by this, it is a compelling story, and sadly, probably not all that far from the truth of some people's stories. It is not all angst and violence, though. There are beautiful relationships and strong bonds and people who are willing to stand up for what's right, which is comforting. Especially around here, lately. Read it and weep.