BOOK REVIEW: ‘Love & Saffron’ by Kim Fay

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1940
(www.penguinrandomhouse.com)

“Love & Saffron” was written by Kim Fay, who is from Washington state. Her previous books are “Communion: A Culinary Journey through Viet Nam,” which was a Gourmand World Cookbook Award winner and “The Map of Lost Memories,” an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel. “Love and Saffron” is an epistolary (a story told with letters). Each letter contains just enough information to keep the reader eager for more. 

It started with a fan letter and a humble gift of saffron and ended in a lifelong connection. It is set in the 1960s, long before emails, text messages and emojis, at a time when waiting for the mail was exciting – opening the mailbox to find a handwritten letter perhaps on stationary and in cursive.   

The characters find a connection because they both have a love of food and trying new recipes. Before the Food Network, Cooking Channel and food bloggers, recipes were shared with friends. It was a time when ingredients found in local stores were limited to foods native to one’s particular region. 

The book’s main characters are Joan Bergstrom, 27, a reporter for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and Imogen Fortier, 59, who writes a monthly column called “Letter From the Island” for Northwest Home and Life Magazine, which is based in Seattle. In spite of the differences in their ages and locations, they find a connection. They experience the phenomenon that it can be easier to confide a problem or concern to a stranger than to tell a friend or family member. Over the years, they become very dear friends. 

The novel addresses shell shock (post-traumatic stress), the civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of JFK. Both women are affected by the anxiety and grief of the time period. But most of the book is about personal issues. Imogen’s husband, Francis, served in World War II. His trauma has an impact on their marriage. But Francis finds a love of cooking for Imogen, which brings the couple closer. Joan falls in love with  a gentleman from Mexico. This brings several challenges.  One is their age difference. The other is that relationships between different ethnicities were frowned upon. The women continue to be supportive and encouraging of each other throughout the novel. 

Less than 200 pages, the novel may seem too short for some readers; it is a quick read. But it is not frivolous or trite. I have recommended this book to several friends, who agree with me. “Love & Saffron” is a delight.