Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Photo taken by Ms. C
I spent a good part of last year browsing bookstores, finding Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, thinking it sounded like an excellent read... but ultimately returning it to its store shelf.  It cost $20 and I couldn't justify buying it.  Flash-forward to a few months ago, and a copy of Bender's work was held tightly in my hands.  After looking and waiting for a copy for *so* long I decided to give it a shot.

Bender tells the story of Rose, a young girl, who can taste emotions in her food.  It is with only one bite of a lemon and chocolate cake that Rose discovers her mother's, the cake chef's, depression.  Bender explores Rose's childhood, family turmoil, and her unique ability to trace emotions in food within this work.

Soon, Rose can not only taste a chef's emotions but the mechanization of the food industry.  She can taste iron and machinery when eating processed foods.  She can taste exactly where ingredients originated - what farm the beef came from, where the vegetables were harvested... right down to the details of a dish's spices and herbs.

Bender's book is very interesting... I love books which include food themes.  Bender's characters' emotions are believable and her descriptions are rich.  This book makes you think about many things - how food reaches us, makes us who we are, and can even destroy us.

However, the book does not remain on a "food -> ingredients -> emotions" theme.  I found myself becoming less engaged with the book as Bender explored the Rose's family and as her brother became a central (and not as believable) character.  I think the book could have been more profound if it had continued to focus on Rose's tasting abilities.

Bibliographic Information:
Bender, A.  (2010).  The particular sadness of lemon cake: A novel.  New York: Anchor Books.


  1. I have tried to read this book half a dozen times. Just can't finish it, or really even get started. Many people, now including you, have said it's not really worth the effort. I think I'll shelve this officially as a "DNF". Great review.

  2. Thanks for commenting 365_books_a_year :)

    I would suggest shelving this book. It's definitely an odd work... I finished it because I was immediately drawn into it's beginning and kept on hoping it would go back to similar themes throughout the work. Without that tie I don't think I would have been able to finish, either!

  3. I've seen this book a lot of times but I never knew what it was actually about. I would love to read books which include food themes, could you suggest any other which you liked? The idea seems pretty great, but I don't know if I'll pick this book up if it wasn't as engaging. Thanks for the review!

  4. Hi Priya,

    My most recently read, and so far favourite, foodie book is Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan. I read this last year but the story still sticks with me! It's a great, feel-good book that I would totally recommend :)

    Then, there is always Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. Powell has a sequel to this book-turned-movie called Cleaving which also looks good - though I am yet to read it!

    You can check out my reviews on Cupcake Cafe and Julie & Julia here:

    PS - sorry, not sure how to properly insert links into a comment page!


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