29 June 2011


Character Connection 29

I can't believe that this is only my second Character Connection post for June! You'd think that with a giveaway to promote, I'd work harder at these things. =P

Today, I have a character from another novel I'm about to toss into my June Giveaway pool. She's one of the minor figures, whom another writer might have allowed to fade into the background--but I daresay you'd never know it from what I've found to write about her. Her own author doesn't fumble any of the characters in her generous ensemble cast, and I'm really looking forward to telling you more about that novel over the weekend.

Maria Corazon Alano
Banana Heart Summer
by Merlinda Bobis

. . . These days, each time [her husband] went out for a drive in his old Ford, she was not quite sure whether he'd still come home. She never asked questions and she knew he found her silence unbearable. Ay, the art of preserving domestic harmony . . .

It was over for Corazon, but leaving did not interest her. And the art of preserving was not for his harmony; it was for her pleasure alone . . .

Corazon could no longer stand "just sweet" confections . . . She was making a new version of acharra, pickled green papayas . . . This morning, she had prepared the pickling vinegar and, in an afterthought, some tuba, a wicked palm wine. Vinegar is the main preservative for savouries, sugar for sweets. The acharra used both, but it could do with some wickedness. She would get it drunk, she chuckled to herself . . .

Banana Heart Summer makes me wonder why we tell most of our stories with words when we could tell them with food. The grammar, logic and rhetoric of the kitchen are often worth a million words, and the work produced by masters of these art are edifying in the most deliciously literal ways. Take the "new version of acharra" Corazon Alano finds herself making: her response to the knowledge that her husband of many years has fallen in love with a younger woman . . . and that she no longer cares because she has fallen out of love with him.

I'd love to taste those pickled green papayas--not just sweet and sour, but also slightly drunk. Wouldn't you?

When Merlinda Bobis first shows us "what's cooking" in Corazon's kitchen, this middle aged wife is putting together a decidedly sweet pineapple upside-down cake. It is also, we are told, an "inside-out" cake, because she has found a way to make some chunks of pineapple stick out of its sides. She has no idea that a few metres away, in her own living room, something is about to turn her own decidedly sweet marriage upside-down and inside-out.

It is not something she was prepared for. A husband's unfaithfulness is never in the "recipe book" every hopeful bride brings with her into her new home. And while a wife expects to adapt "ideal" recipes to what she has at hand (as even the best of us can't always find the original ingredients), what is she to do with a new element that throws her cooking into chaos?

And so we read--if not also taste--the whole story of Maria Corazon Alano's marriage. It gives insight into not just what kind of wife or cook she is, but also what kind of woman she is. It takes a seasoned sense of humour (and not a tired sense of resignation) to take something as traditional and domestic as acharra and get it drunk. Forget typical "bittersweet" endings: they're nothing next to sweet, sour and sloshed.

Image Source: Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis


Sharre said...

I'm intrigued - recipes to document a life, create a story - what a wonderful literary tool. Food is so evocative and sensual, it makes you want to taste the novel if that makes sense :D

Lesa said...

What Sharre said! Makes perfect sense!

Yes, I do want to taste the sloshed papaya. Yum, pineapple upside down cake-- wonder how she got pieces to stick out the side.

You are right, she doesn't sound like a minor character. Interesting minor characters add so much to a book-- and everyone has a story, don't they.

IntrovertedJen said...

I'm not a foodie--sloshed papaya sounds very dangerous to me!

My husband, our cook, is a foodie. I'll know now if something is wrong when I taste it in his food!

I do need to read Chocolat though. Chocolate, I get.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sharre -- It definitely makes sense to me! I would have liked to read this novel in a book club, holding all our meetings in restaurants. =P

Thanks for visiting!

Lesa -- The book says that she lay the slices of pineapple along the sides of the tin and not just on the "lake of caramel," but I have no idea how she did that, either. =P

Yes, everyone has a story! And those who are big foodies might add that everyone also has a recipe! ;-) I have no idea what mine is, though . . .

Jen -- It probably is dangerous (LOL!), but acharra is meant to be enjoyed as a side dish, so one hopes that the filling entree and rice staple would keep one from getting too drunk on it. ;-)

Come to think of it, there wasn't much chocolate in this book. =( It's partly because Nenita's family is poor and doesn't get to enjoy these treats--much less regular food--very often, and partly because Bobis understandably wants to focus on native delicacies.