Broken for You ****/***** by Stephanie Kallos
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where “pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera”.
I stumbled on this book at Audible.com, searching for a book by narrator, instead of by title. As a result, I came away with a book I would not have normally chosen. Knowing little about the book and based solely on the narrator~ Kate Fleming, I knew that the audio performance would enhance the story in ways I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate by simply reading the book. Kate Fleming, also known under the pseudonym of Anna Fields, (who sadly passed away in 2006) held me spell-bound with her gift for accents and voices. In Broken for You, she tackles Irish, British, French and Southern accents with an authentic and unbelievable ease and flair. She also does the voices of a 75-year-old woman and a toddler, convincingly. IMHO, Anna Fields elevated a 4 star read to a 5 star listen, conveying characters in a way that would have been lost on me otherwise.
“When Kate was in the booth, she would give herself over to the page,” says Lyssa Browne, Kate’s business partner in Cedar House Audio, the company she ran from her home in Seattle. “She could instantly convey the truthfulness of each character, she captured the essence of the story so quickly. It really took the guesswork out of the process for listeners.”
This story begins when 75-year-old Margaret Hughes is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Alone~ in a 15,000 square foot mansion, with nothing to keep her company but shameful secrets and rooms full of European antique porcelain, she decides to take in a boarder. Wanda, age 34 moves in, and an unlikely friendship is soon cemented.
Wanda, herself is broken~ abandoned at age six by her father, when she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle while her father searches in vain for Wanda’s runaway mother. The two women begin to rely on each other and share the burden of their secrets. As the story of Margaret’s family’s fortune slowly unfolds, Margaret begins to “collect” people rather than the valuable porcelain that has haunted her for years. Colorful secondary characters are the missing pieces and fragments of this story~ that complete and create a mosaic that is memorable and moving.
Margaret imagines being one of her many fragile stolen things:
“the Royal Worcester jardiniere, the one signed by W. Powell, Circa 1907, thirty-four centimeters tall, valued at $10,500. Perhaps is was feeling anxious and fearful. Or Perhaps, Margaret thought, her heart doing a sudden giddy-up dance, it’s delighted. Perhaps it’s pleased that it’s going to be touched again after so long a time, in an intimate, familiar way. It’s going to interact with something bedside a feather duster. Perhaps all of them–the vases and figurines, the egg cups and inkstands and game pie tureens, the wall pockets and asparagus plate, the foot bath!–perhaps they’re grateful that finally, finally, they don’t have to wait anymore. They’re going to come out of their dark niches and off their pristine shelves, into the sunlight, into human hands, to experience something riotous and passionate. Like the breaking of glass at the end of a Jewish wedding!”
Bruce is hired as chef and takes up residence in the mansion~he chooses Bon Bon, a small room on the third floor. Concerned, Margaret asks him if he wouldn’t prefer a larger room on the second floor~
“Ma’am, I’m a fat, single, gay, depressed Jewish boy from Alpharetta, Georgia. When I’m not cooking, I need to be as far away from a refrigerator as possible. If I do happen to get an uncontrollable urge in the wee small hours of the night to confuse food with love, at least I’ll have to carry myself down and up three flights of stairs to do it.”
Margaret divulges her secret of her family’s heirlooms to Wanda and her plan. . .
“My father was well-connected and wealthy, even before the war. When the Nazis began their work, he saw a great opportunity. He was skilled that way, really gifted– a kind of diviner when it came to money. So he began a new business: as a broker of fine antique European china and porcelain.”
Discovering this after her father’s death, at the age of 24 while running the family business, she closed shop and moved everything into her house: “I thought that would be enough, you see. I thought that would make it right. To not sell any of it, to not profit by it. I thought that was payment enough and that I could have a life.” Trying to return everything to surviving kin was futile~ any documentation had ultimately been lost or destroyed by the Nazis.
“These things have outlived their time, it seems to me. If all they do is sit on a shelf, no one will ever know their worth. I think it’s time for them to die. They should all be broken. I want you to do it.”
“The pieces had their own music, too, brief but distinct. A porcelain soup tureen could thud hollowly, darkly, like the striding bass notes in Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’. Shattering aperitif crystal might remind her of the crisp jubilance of a bebop trumpet. The cacophony of dessert plates dropped en masse could imitate Bird’s ragedy sax.”
“She loved the random shapes. She knew early on that she wouldn’t want to manipulate them further, unless it would be to drop them more than once and/or walk on them. No nippers, certainly. she pondered the ethics of employing hammers, deciding finally that she might use them–but only occasionally, and only as a last resort if she couldn’t get pieces sized for her purpose any other way.”
Bruce remembers his Grandma Katz, his first and finest culinary arts professor and explains that when you’re Jewish, “everything that matters happens in the kitchen” :
‘Slow down, boychick!’ she was always saying. ‘Cooking is not to rush. It’s a prayer. A gift of love. It’s family. It’s standing in the company of your ancestors and feeling their hands, helping you.’
Bruce is always preparing drool-worthy food. Instead of angel hair with hazelnut Gorgonzola, I substituted fusilli~ to make sure the cheesy creamy goodness stuck to every nook & cranny in the noodle :-)
Pasta with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts
2 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 c. whipping cream
1/2 lb. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lb. fusilli, penne, or ziti pasta
1 c. hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. freshly grated Romano or
Parmesan cheese (about 2 oz.)
Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in thyme. Add cream and gorgonzola and stir until cheese melts and sauce thickens slightly. Season with pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Re-warm over low heat.) Cook pasta in large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain well. Return to pot. Add sauce and stir over low heat until pasta is coated. Mix in hazelnuts. Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with Romano cheese and garnish with parsley if desired. Serve immediately.