There are books that I read and remember. There are books I read and forget. But occasionally I read a book that I love so much that I feel like I need to own it, and then lend it out to all my friends so that they can see how amazing it is.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest was and is one of those books. By the time it ended I didn’t want it to end and I wanted to sign up for Eva’s famous dinner and would be willing to wait just for the tiniest chance of meeting her. This desire is planted, grown, and nurtured through a book that is only briefly told through her own eyes. Her presence is felt through the kitchens of the midwest and we see her through the eyes of those that love her, know her, and in some cases are strangers to her. In the chapter “Bars” you will find yourself seeking her out while still enraptured in the story, and you only really see her for one sentence.
The subtlety of this book is one of its best attributes. The author doesn’t smash the idea of a girl rising from tragedy into success over your head, and you will be so thankful for it. Tragedy is also presented in very quick, yet meaningful ways, and as you move through this incredible journey you see Eva as a celestial body, pulling the good souls out of their own darkness into her path to success, happiness, and acceptance. Her movement through the world seems to also separate the wheat from the chaff, and you will feel so satisfied when Eva’s enemies get NOTHING (or the something they deserve).
I was surprised how J. Ryan Stradal had me feeling things before I realized I was feeling things. When I read books it’s like I’m programmed to predict what is coming next, but Stradal provided me with a book that was refreshingly unpredictable but not unsettlingly so. When I reached a point where a few things came together my psyche just said “Of course! That’s perfect! I’m so happy!” You’ll feel so many emotions moving through this book, some positive, some negative, but all satisfying. The ending of the book resonated especially with me, but you may form your own opinions as the experience may not be your own or something you grapple with. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.
This book also reminded me how much I love books that take the trouble to include recipes. It engaged my senses so that I could taste the french onion soup, feel the oily peanut butter bars, and develop a healthy fear of spicy pepper oil. I was so sad that I had to return the book before I thought of writing down the recipes, but luckily Minnesota Public Radio did an article on the book and included them here.
Please take a journey with J. Ryan Stradal through the American Midwest through this character-driven, sensory wonderland. You will be glad you did.