Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kitchen Casualties


'My mother's forgiveness felt like shortbread pastry rubbed between fingers, I could already taste it's sweetness in my mouth.'

It's been a long while since I've read a book that has really stirred me. I found the novel 'Kitchen Casualties' by Willemien de Villiers such a stirrer of memories for me.
And of feelings. Maybe it's the realness of her South African voice, the familiarity of the backdrop, the culture or the subtle idiosyncricities of the female characters that tugs at something deep inside. Maybe I'm just turning another page in my grieving process and this book awakened me to it, touched this rawness inside, my grief not as deeply buried as it once was. There are so many aspects of this novel that remind me of my family life, my childhood, the complexity of my relationships with the generations of women in my own family. The tender dynamic between mother and daughter. Especially that.

The reader follows four generations of women, as we experience a single day of their lives, seen through all four pairs of eyes.
We are taken on a journey of their memories, their secrets and whispers, which weave an inspiring and heartbreaking story of love, abuse, denial and atonement, against the backdrop of the heart of their homes - their kitchens. Each with their own joy and their own suffering. For me, it's about how we turn into our mothers and how we don't.

I found this novel's meticulously crafted prose so evocative, so organic, rich, tactile and tasty.
The sheer beauty of her words bring me tears and laughter, sometimes simultaneously. Through masterful use of language, she takes the seemingly mundane and makes it meaningful and symbolic, sacred even. So feminine, sad, magical. Beautiful. Like opening a dusty old memory box and smelling, touching, feeling everything again since long ago. I remember things long forgotten. Little vignettes of time spent with my Mom when I was a child come back to me. Our close bond that will never leave me. Flapjacks and corned beef and cabbage. Her cooking and baking, especially her baking. Her sewing, knitting and crocheting - buttons and cotton reels, ribbons and knitting needles. Icing wedding cakes, her domestic Goddesshood. She was always creating. Her stories, her laughter. Her Scottish superstitions. Our secret mother/daughter time, sometimes light - as best friends, co-conspirators, heart-to-hearts. Sometimes a unspoken heaviness - complicated, an uneasy truce but always together. Always close. Our time was precious. And short.

A memory lingers, long after this book is returned to the library. I am transported back to being three or four years old,
in my mother's kitchen, her mother's kitchen at the old house, 'helping' my Mom bake. Flour everywhere, sunshine streaming in through the window, the wooden kitchen table my grandfather made in his carpentry studio. The old oven, Mom's floral apron. Tartan-patterned flasks. Tea cups hanging on hooks, steps leading out the back door to a concrete courtyard. The smell of butter and sugar creaming. Bright plastic cups I'm using to 'bake' with, to punch out my 'cookies'. The feeling of home, the feeling of Mom. A warm happiness. Now the saltiness of tears mixes with the sweetness of memory. Somehow my tears make them that much sweeter. I know she would agree.

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