You haven’t heard of Kamala Nair, but you will.
She just sold her debut novel for six figures to Grand Central Publishing. The folks there are either incredibly lucky or insanely smart – or both – because The Girl in the Garden is going to be huge. I was lucky to read it for the first time several months ago because (full disclaimer!) the author is my best friend. I started it just before bed, planning to do some nice sleepy reading for a few chapters, then go to sleep and finish it later. I had to be up in the morning fairly early, and I was tired. Well: two hours later I looked at the clock and realized it was really late and I’d better go to bed ASAP to have any chance at a functional tomorrow – and I still could NOT put it down! I read until it was done because I absolutely could not go to sleep without knowing what happened. It was completely worth it. It’s a beautifully written family drama that will thrill and delight you, worry you, surprise you and keep you turning the pages until there aren’t any left. So, buy it! Though this is rather early – it will probably come out in summer 2011 – but never fear, I will remind you then quite incessantly.
Here is the official synopsis from Publisher’s Marketplace: “Kamala Nair’s THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN, the redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.”
The Girl in the Garden will be a fantastic book club selection because there are so many controversial characters that can’t be pigeonholed into good/bad – people will have a lot of different opinions, I think. Which, naturally, would make for a great dinner party or cocktail party. I love themed parties like this, but hate for them to be too obviously connected to their inspiration. For example, the novel is primarily set in India, but serving only Indian food would just be so expected. And we don’t ever want to be predictable, do we!? I won’t give much away, but there are other elements of the novel that gave me inspiration with a twist – two primary themes are inner beauty and childhood. My menu is below, and flexibly works for either hors d’oeuvres or a casual dinner party (everyone will have to feel comfortable about eating with their hands). You’ll have to read the book to truly understand why I chose these dishes ;)
- Hot Peel and Eat Shrimp with Saffron Parsley Butter
- Arugula with Pineapple and Pine Nuts, served in the pineapple
- Wedding Cake
I started with samosas, because although they are obviously Indian food, I love them and I refuse to leave them out. We also needed a little something Indian in the menu. The shrimp reminds me of the tropical climate of Kerala and in their skins, they are ugly on the outside but wonderful on the inside; a major theme of the book. Also, you have to eat the samosas and shrimp with your hands, tearing off the unattractive outer covering to get to the tastiness inside, which takes us back to childhood and obviously follows our theme of inner beauty. The plating of the pineapple salad follows it as well and is evocative of the garden wall, and since the fruit itself has a prickly skin but is sweet inside, it too adds to our theme. Pineapple is also a tropical fruit, and – an aside – I thought I didn’t like pineapple until I went to Kerala and someone convinced me to try one. Oh my goodness, I can still remember how sweet that pineapple was. I’ve been completely converted to pineapple ever since, and love using it in non-fruit salad ways. Finally, wedding cake (which is really any cake you feel like making as long as you decorate it nicely) for the ending the main character hopes to have – plus, back to our childhood theme: everyone likes cake.
I would serve this on a table designed with a combination of whimsy and practicality. It’s going to be a messy meal, and one napkin is not going to hold up to that shrimp. So, two strategically placed paper towel dispensers placed on the table where the candles would usually go will be amusing and purposeful! Then, with the white paper towels keeping it from getting too crazy, dress up the rest of the table with color: bright pinks, yellows, blues, reds, oranges. This would be a great time to use the idea of aluminum cans (labels removed) or old jars as vases, again bringing us back to childhood and a casual feeling, and the colors are evocative of India without going overboard with the connection.
This is neither a table nor menu that would make sense served without a connection to The Girl in the Garden, and it’s so fun to have inspiration come from extraordinary stories like this one. I can’t wait for it to be published so everyone can read it!