I feel like I am falling behind already. I whipped through book #13 The Zanzibar Chest by Aiden Hartley. I found it hard to put down, even though he describes things that no human should witness nor live through. Hartley, born in Kenya and most recently a reporter for the Economist, has felt an inexplicable pull to Africa his whole life. He comes from a long line of African colonialists—his father helped bring irrigation systems and new crops to various areas. Hartley returns to Africa as a young correspondent for Reuters. Covering large swathes of Africa, he writes about witnessing the tragic drought in Ethiopia, the fighting in Somalia, and the genocide in Rwanda. The hard, gritty writing leaves nothing undescribed. Everything he saw, the bodies, the filth, the savageness of the people involved he records. Shattered by his experiences, he returns home to find the journals of his father’s closest friend Peter Davey, who lived and died on the Arabian penisula. Hartley travels there to trace Davey’s mysterious death in 1947. This story he weaves throughout the book, and though the story is less compelling than the rest, it provides him with a touchstone for an examination of colonialism and its effects. Hartley loves Africa and this loving homage to the continent provides a small glimpse into a varied and exotic land.
After reading such an intense book, I needed something a bit lighter. Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany seemed like the perfect antidote. The plot of this book is self-explanatory from the long subtitle. Bill Buford, who spent 16 years as editor of Granta and 8 years as fiction editor of The New Yorker, chronicles his experience as slave to Mario Batali’s in the kitchen of Babbo in NY. That’s really just the first part. Eventually, Buford moves to Tuscany for a bit to learn the art of being a butcher. Over the course of several years, he attempts to learn why food matters. I found his portrait of Batali illuminating—he’s way more hardcore than I would have thought and Buford’s description pushes Batali off the pedestal he’s been living on for a while now. But the man can drink a case of wine on his own and he cusses like a sailor! Though he gets too bogged down in confusing historical details in places, his humorous writing made me finish the book. If you love reading about restaurants, meat, pasta, and Italy and don’t mind the occasional boring tangent, it’s a fun read.