Himmler's Cook

Himmler’s Cook by Franz-Olivier Giesbert


image: amazon.com

Can food be always related to happy memories?? Not particularly. But food and memories go hand in hand and, I am quite sure, I am not the only one to conjure memories at the very sight, smell and taste of foods. Personally speaking, most of the food memories are happy ones. But, Himmler’s Cook spreads out a haunting tale of cruelty, intrigue, and sorrow through a stream of food imageries.

The same images are used as tools of Magic realism as well as sexual metaphors. In the end, you feel sick, as if you have just finished stuffing a delicious but unhealthy meal. Like the aftertaste of a gluttonous meal, it haunts you for a while.

The provencal recipes tempt you but the horrifying tales of murder keep you wondering about the juxtaposition. And this is what makes this book so special. A tale of four murderers spiced and flavored with coincidences, ill fate, and of course, evil forces in human mind. The first three are, supposedly, History’s worst gifts to the world- Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. They were larger than life figures and we are not going into the details of how their actions not only affected their own people but the world in general.

The fourth murderer here is Rose, a 105 years old cook.

What connects all four of them? They were all born in the same century. As Rose states in the beginning, ‘History is a bitch’ and she is not ashamed of confessing how she had turned into one too. A gifted cook in the kitchen and an accomplished murderer who survives everything that sums up her life-her homeland, her family, friends and, especially, her enemies.

And not to mentioned, all of it is seasoned with a generous amount of humor. Circumstances take her to places and she finds herself in Himmler’s kitchen. Himmler was perhaps the most important figure in the Nazi Germany after Hitler. Known to the world as the overseer of Nazi Concentration Camps, his hands are as bloodied as the Fuehrer himself.

I have always had a very few reading rules and precisely two if you count them; one, I always pick up fiction. Second, it has to be heart wrenching. I would stick to these rules and devour anything that falls under these two categories til last summer. But one visit to a Helsinki library introduced me to the sumptuous world of food and words; two of my passions.

The first book at the library that I laid my eyes on was ‘Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: a Memoir of Food and Longing’ an award winning food memoir by Anya Von Bremzen. The title was inviting and after flipping through a few pages, I reached to the conclusion that food memoirs are the best memoirs. But to simplify the statement, I would say books that talk about foods are the best books.

Long story cut short, I pick up books that have elaborate food imageries. The last related bestseller I read was ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’. To my utter delight, each of the chapters was named after a food item. Himmler’s Cook does an equally satisfying job- to wrap your soul with the aroma of the spices only to expose you to the stench of murders in no time.

Long story cut short, Himmler’s Cook is a witty memoir of survival, bitterness, and food. The author succeeds in painting an emotionally starved world  existing beyond pots and pans but to way to that world passes through Rose’s kitchen. Hence, I am not shocked to find a recipe and the gory details of a murder side by side.

(The book is available on Amazon for sale. Franz Olivier Giesbert is a renowned French author and journalist).


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