Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Lady, The Chef and The Courtesan

The Lady, The Chef and The Courtesan, by Marisol
Country: Venezuela

"According to a Latin American proverb, a complete woman must be a lady in the living room, a chef in the kitchen and a courtesan in the bedroom."

Ironically, a couple of days after writing a post ranting about the difficulties of finding anything to read from Venezuela, I came across a review of this book online. I read the blurb on Amazon, and since I have a weakness for certain types of book - in this instance, a feminist novel of newly discovered inner power enabling the central character to go against her mother and cultural traditions to follow her heart and step into a new life in Chicago - I snapped up a copy and dived in.

As it turns out, the original reviewer was right on the money - I can't find her review, but she wrote something along the lines of 'not great, but interesting for the cultural knowledge it contains'. My initial impressions of the novel were not favourable. I thought the language was stiff and cliched, nothing piqued my interest and I decided that life is to short to carry on reading if it didn't pick up by the end of the first chapter. As it turned out, the book did pick up - without wishing to give too much away, much of the main body of the novel is Pilar's grandmother diaries, containing stories from her life, lessons she learned on love, cooking and living in Venezuelan society and a secret she carried with her to her grave. Slightly weirdly, once the author got into the diary excerpts, her prose changed and became beautifully composed and flowing. The contents of the text also changed, revealing aspects of traditional Venezuelan customs and culture within the main storyframe. Unfortunately, the end was a little predictable and unsatisfying, but I do now posess a killer paella recipe, which I will be trying out as soon as I buy some oregano!

Here's three facts about Venezuelan culture you probably didn't know:

1. Women are expected to remain virgins until they marry, but men undergo a rite of entry into manhood by visiting prostitutes in brothels.

2. When a marriage proposal is put forward between two families, the bride's propective mother-in-law must prepare the most delectable meal she can for the bride's family to prove that her son is worthy of his future wife (who will already have undergone extensive training for housewifery).

3. Traditionally, Venezuelan women make a lot of their own beauty products - tooth whitener made with lime juice and baking soda, lip plumper made with honey and chillis and each woman will also blend her own unique individual scent.

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