The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee BenderOn the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. All at once her cheerful, can-do mother tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes perilous. Anything can be revealed at any meal. Rose’s gift forces her to confront the truth behind her family’s emotions – her mother’s sadness, her father’s detachment and her brother’s clash with the world. But as Rose grows up, she learns that there are some secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about the pain of loving those whom you know too much about, and the secrets that exist within every family. At once profound, funny, wise and sad, this is a novel to savour.
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Jodi Picoult says of this book that the writing is so beautiful that ‘sometimes I have to stop and taste a sentence a second time’. I know exactly what she means – Aimee Bender’s pages are rich in texture and flavour, and her blend of food and emotion as the driving force of her story is little short of inspired.
Of course, it’s not all about Rose; far from it. As her years unwind, we enter the worlds of those close to her, and she – and we - increasingly begin to realise how deep the family secrets run. The saying that we must love people for their faults as well as their blessings is almost tested to destruction in Rose: is hers a gift, or a curse?
But gradually we come to suspect that perhaps she isn’t the only one in her family to secretly hold some strange ability. Her brother Joe, for example. As he approaches adulthood he begins acting strangely, drawing inwards on himself and disappearing for longer and longer periods. Where does he go? What is the reason for the eerie, thick feeling in his room Rose can detect when he is gone?
The answer gives Aimee Bender’s wonderful story one of the most unusual endings I can remember reading.
The clue is in the title. Why is lemon cake sad? Well, it isn’t – it just tastes that way. But not to anyone other than shy, quiet Rose Edelstein. Just before her ninth birthday, Rose bites into her mother’s special lemon cake and for the first time in her life, something almost miraculous happens. With total certainty and unhesitating insight, Rose can taste the emotions her mother was feeling when she mixed the cake. The flavour is one of despair and desperation – this, in a woman whose face to the world is always sunny, can-do and upbeat.
Rose confides in her older brother, Joseph, and he and his best friend George conduct an immediate experiment in the Edelstein kitchen. Rose taste-tests her way through everything in the fridge. The results are dramatic. She finds she can discern emotions in everything, not just food her mother has prepared. The butter has a dreary flavour, and when Rose checks the package, she sees it comes from a giant, impersonal farm in Wisconsin. Whoever made some grape jelly was seething with resentment at the time. And so on.
Rose knows her life will never be the same again, because whatever she eats, particularly home-made food, will reveal the maker’s deepest secrets. Quite a burden for a child to carry – especially when she comes to learn of her mother’s hidden life outside the home.
Aimee Bendermaster Video
TheParticularSadness Sample Chapter
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