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Book Review

‘Kitchens of the Great Midwest’

9/2/2015

J. Ryan Stradal’s new novel is a unique story of family and food. Easily devoured by food lovers and literature lovers alike, the debut has ingredients inspired by Stradal’s Minnesota upbringing and his grandmother’s Lutheran church cookbook. Real family recipes are mixed among heartfelt, character-driven stories and a bit of cheerful satire directed toward the food-obsessed.

By J. Ryan Stradal Pamela Dorman Books 07/28/15 $25 320 pp

By J. Ryan Stradal
Pamela Dorman
Books
07/28/15
$25
320 pp

Stradal’s impressive first fiction is a type of coming-of-age story about Eva Thorvald, a prodigy who grows to become the most revered chef of her generation. It is told through eight linked chapters, each one from the perspective of a different character and revolving around a different dish.

The stories describe Eva’s life as she journeys from a baby grabbing for heirloom tomatoes at a market to a preteen growing hot peppers in her bedroom to a young woman at the helm of a pop-up supper club with a nearly 300-year wait list and a $5,000 price tag. She unfolds as a talented, likeable person, yet someone not without imperfections. Resilient and spirited, she meets the challenges of her childhood and tends to her real family — and her food family — with devotion.

For someone hungry for a wholly original and satisfying read, Stradal’s book is a big-hearted story about the power of family and food and the memories and connections they create. Eva’s last supper club that we read about is an assembly of hand-picked attendees, an emotional nod to the past that’s shaped Eva. Stradal explores the complicated way food can help shape one’s identity and showcases not only Eva’s story but a culinary portrait of the Midwest. CV

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Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents and a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured. Ms. Jones once won a coupon for a free ice cream cone after her suggestion for a name for the local Reading Is Fundamental mascot was selected. 

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