August 18, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Richard C. Morais' debut novel The Hundred-Foot Journey is a captivating tale of family, food, and culture clash. Filled with vivid characters and culinary references, this book will appeal to both foodies and literary fiction lovers.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"The novel floats along a bounty of vivid food imagery, a twisty-turny river of dishes Indian, French, and everything in between. With an obvious insider's knowledge of the restaurant milieu, well-published journalist Morais delivers a world where Michelin stars determine not only the popular appeal of a restaurant but also the happiness and self-worth of its executive chef. This novel, of mythic proportions yet told with truly heartfelt realism, is a stunning tribute to the devotion of family and food, in that order."
My novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, is about a lowly but gifted Muslim-Indian chef who has the culinary equivalent of "perfect pitch." This talent propels Hassan Haji and his raucous family on a road trip that takes the reader to Mumbai, London, a French alpine village called Lumière, and finally, of course, Paris, where Hassan conquers the elite and insular world of French haute cuisine. The novel is ideal for armchair travelers who want to disappear in a world of delicious food, beautiful scenery, and eccentric characters.
Like a lot of novelists, I listen to music while I am writing. The music in the background subliminally contributes to the "mood" I am trying to create on paper and helps bring to the surface emotions that I want to resonate in the work. It's strange. I am utterly lacking in musical talent, but the moment a raspy-voiced cantaor starts wailing in a flamenco classic, I'm reduced to an emotional puddle on the floor. Not sure why. My long-suffering wife and daughter will tell you it's seriously embarrassing to be around.
So here are some music choices that do it for me and I strongly associate with writing The Hundred-Foot Journey.
"Case Of You" by Joni Mitchell
Anthony Bourdain claims my novel has "the lushest, most high-test food porn since Zola." Very flattering, of course, but I created the lush descriptions by imbuing the culinary ingredients in the pan with the human relationships and emotions around the stove. That's why I love Joni Mitchell's "Case Of You". She so perfectly captures the "hunger" for human contact – that ache to "drink a case of you" – that to me is at the heart of all great culinary writing. It's not just the food or drink – it's whom you share it with that makes for a truly memorable meal.
"Aaj Ek Harf", title track from the Merchant Ivory Productions film, In Custody
The late filmmaker, Ismail Merchant, was a superb cook and a friend. At the Bombay Brasserie in London one evening, after he showed me the beautiful film he made of Anita Desai's In Custody, I urged Ismail to find a literary property that would marry his love of food with his love of filmmaking. Unable to find exactly what I was looking for, I sat down to write The Hundred-Foot Journey, which was a problem, since I had never actually been to India. So I constantly listened to the "In Custody" soundtrack as I wrote the book, to get the "feel" and "rhythm" of India before I actually visited. That's also how I discovered the wonderful Hariharan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, and Zakir Hussain. I was so impressed by their musicality I gave them cameos in my little book.
"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" by the Eurythmics
After a tragedy, the eccentric Haji family leaves Mumbai and moves to London. In one scene, displaced Hassan and his older brother cheer themselves up by visiting London's lively Camden markets; music by the Eurythmics and the Clash blares from the shops as they pass by. Those musical choices are loaded with personal meaning. We were stationed in London for 18 years, when I was Forbes magazine's European Bureau Chief, and our daughter was born there. I in particular associate Annie Lennox's haunting voice with that happy time in our life, when I started writing my novel, partly because our daughters became close friends.
"La Vie En Rose" by Madeleine Peyroux
After London, the Haji family moves to France, settling in a small village in the French Alps. Nothing captures earthy France quite like a weepy from Edith Piaf, but that canard has been cooked to death many times before. Happily, I recently discovered this fine version of "La Vie En Rose by the talented American jazz singer, Madeleine Peyroux. She can veer in a single beat from Edith Piaf to Bill Holliday.
"Inspiration" by the Gypsy Kings
The Gypsy Kings embody the cultural message of my book. The group's relatives were Spanish gypsies who fled Spain during the Civil War and settled in France. Gypsy music and flamenco is at heart the cry of the underdog, and whenever I hear a good Spanish guitar and the vocal suffering of an authentic cantaor, I am moved to write and write. The fiery talent and passion of the Gypsy Kings – outsiders in France, who still "made it" – to me personify in real life Hassan Haji's fictional culinary journey.
"I Just Don't Think I Will Ever Get Over You" by Colin Hay
Hay's opening line – "I drink good coffee every morning" – leads to this incredibly sad yearning for his great love – "even after all these years" – and it just blows me away. It makes me think of my own morning coffee alongside my wife of 28 years, and how much I will miss her the day we are forced to part ways in this life. The sentiment captured in this song is similar to Joni Mitchell's "Case Of You" – the libation the narrator is drinking is redolent with the memory of his love. It's Proust's madeleine cake put to music.
"The Pearl Fishers" duet sung by Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill
Madame Mallory is a principle character of my novel. She is an imperious French chef who wants to destroy Hassan – once she realizes his talent is superior to her own – until life itself forces her to have a change in heart. But it is Madame Mallory's unassuming right hand, Monsieur Leblanc, who is the real hero – he is a very kind and devoted friend, and in many ways Madame Mallory's conscience. No song captures friendship better than Georges Bizet's moving duet, as sung by Björling and Merrill.
"Let It Be Me" by Ray LaMontagne
I'm a big fan of LaMontagne's smoky voice. The lyrics and tone of "Let It Be Me" perfectly capture what Hassan and all people trying to find their calling in life have to go through at times, when "nothing turns out right" and it's hard to "find your place." The answer in both his song and in my book is the same – human contact.
Of course, a good book and fine music help a lot, too.
Richard C. Morais and The Hundred-Foot Journey links:
Barnes and Noble Review review
Booktopia Blog review
The Captive Reader review
A Common Reader review
Devourer of Books review
Eye Weekly review
National Public Radio review
New York Times review
Philadelphia Inquirer review
Time Out Melbourne review
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists