by de Kerangal, Maylis; Taylor, Sam (TRN)

A follow-up to The Heart follows the coming-of-age of a self-taught chef who endures setbacks in his career, relationships and mental stability before rediscovering his passions, a journey witnessed by a nameless narrator who might be in love with him.

Maylis de Kerangal is the author of several novels in French, including Naissance d'un pont (published in English as Birth of a Bridge, winner of the Prix Franz Hessel and Prix Médicis in 2010). She has also published a story collection, and a novella, Tangente vers l'est (winner of the 2012 Prix Landerneau). In 2014, Réparer les vivants was published to wide acclaim and won the Grand Prix RTL-Lire and the Student Choice Novel of the Year from France Culture and Télérama. Its English translation, The Heart (FSG, 2016), was one of The Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Fiction Works of 2016 and was the winner of the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize. She lives in Paris, France.

Sam Taylor has written for The Guardian, Financial Times, Vogue, and Esquire. He translated Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart, as well as the award-winning HHhH by Laurent Binet and the internationally bestselling The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker.

At the start of acclaimed French writer Kerangal's (The Heart, 2016) tale, Mauro, 20, is observed on a train headed for culinary school in Berlin. Distracted by the city's nightlife, he is reminded of his goals when he accidentally brushes against his textbook. Over the next 15 years, Mauro is consumed by his work in a variety of kitchens in Berlin, Paris, and Asia, including the one in his own restaurant, while he also manages the normal ups-and-downs of everyday life and confronts his past. An unnamed friend with a limited point of view is the story's narrator and shares information without judgment, making the reader feel equally intimate with both storyteller and protagonist. Kerangal's concise tale is as engaging for the relatable ordinariness of its characters and events as for its tracking of a chef's professional development. The sparse prose increases the impact of carefully chosen details, and the translation retains the power of the compact novel's original French. Kerangal proves that the best reads can come in small packages. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

A young man makes a demanding but soul-stirring trek through the kitchens of France's finer restaurants. De Kerangal's previous novel published in English, The Heart (2016), was a straightforward tale of organ donation from the donor's death to transplant surgery. The trajectory of this novel is a similar forward march, but it encompasses more emotional and sensory detail; it's slim but potent. The story follows Mauro and his love of cooking from childhood (baking cakes in elementary school) and young adulthood (weaning his friends off fast food with homemade meals) to pursuing a culinary career in his native France. Every tale of culinary apprenticeship seems to demand a trial by fire in a perfectionist kitchen, and this one is no different: He's chided, whacked in the head with a melon baller, and works endless hours. His social life vaporizes; his girlfriend leaves him. But the author does a fine job of exploring why someone like Mauro is still enchanted by the lifestyle. A love of food is part of it, and she writes lovingly about "the taste of a tomato, the subtlety of a stalk of asparagus, the crunch of a curly endive." She's less interested in food porn, though, than in the way the kitchen provides a kind of holistic calm: "He can cook by ear as well as with his nose, hands, mouth, and eyes." What Mauro's life lacks is time to rest, and the anonymous narrator, vaguely suggested as a potential love interest, frames his life as bittersweet, shaped by success in the culinary world but resisting the compromises his increasing success demands, his "mental life simmering carefully like milk over a fire." A life like Mauro's is forever uncertain, the story suggests, but sweetened by an endless cookbook's worth of options. Too short to feel like a full-bodied novel but an admirable literary lagniappe. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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