Umami ~ by Laia Jufresa

Umami (/uˈmɑːmi/), or savory taste, is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness). It has been described as brothy or meaty.   (Think soy sauce or parmesan cheese.)

This is the completely delightful and  brilliantly told story of a group of neighbors who live in little complex called the Belldrop Mews located somewhere outside of Mexico City.   It takes place over a period of 5 years and is told in reversed chronological order.   The residents all have problems –  mostly concerning grief and families.   The families  are also identified by the unit in which they live –  Bitter, Sweet, Salty, Sour and Umami.



by Laia Jufresa
2016 / 240 pages
Read by Karina Fernandez – 7h 13m
Rating – 9.5
translated by Sophie Hughes
(read and listened) 

Also a debut novel and nominated for the Best Translated Book Award – 2017.

The structure is intriguingly different – There are 4 Parts each of which is broken into 5 chapters.   The chapters in each Part work their way backwards from 2004 through 2003, 2002, 2001 and then 2000.

The first chapter in each Part is titled 2004 and is told by a 12-year old girl named Ana Perez-Walker.   Ana is the daughter of Victor Perez and his US ex-pat wife, Linda Walker,  both professional musicians.  The Perez-Walker family is grieving the loss of their youngest daughter,  Luz, who drowned at age 5.

The second chapter in each Part is titled 2003 and is told by a neighbor,  Marina, who is a single 21-year old woman with an eating disorder.   She is also an artist with a talent for colors.

The third chapter in each Part is titled 2002 and concerns the first person narrator of Doctor Alfonso Semitiel.   He’s grieving his wife Noelia who was a cardiologist.  Alf was an academic anthropologist.  He is the landlord.

The fourth chapter in each Part is titled 2001 and features Luz,  the 5-year old sister of Ana, Linda’s daughter,  who drowned.  She tells her story in first person.

The fifth chapter of each Part is titled 2000 and has a 3rd person narrator but the point of view is that of Pina,  Ana’s best friend, who also lives in Belldrop Mews.

So this results in Part 1- 2004 story  (about Ana) being continued in the Part 2 -2004 story and then in the Part 3-2004 story and then in the Part 4-2004 story

Which house they each live in is revealed as the story goes on and there’s a brilliant little post-modern twist a bit past half-way mark.

Tensions build in each story but the device is more along the lines of “how did that happen?”  or “what is that about?”   And then we go back to the year prior from someone else’s viewpoint and find out.  It would be interesting to go through all the 2004/Ana chapters and read them as one narrative – or 2002 chapters from Doctor Alfonso Semitiel.

The themes are families, parenthood, childhood, love, loss, community and taste – food   interwoven with denial, fantasy, guilt, sex, growing up, and gardening.


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