"The Lady, The Chef, and the Courtesan"
(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 25, 2004)
To become "a lady, a chef and a courtesan," you must apply yourself diligently to the acquisition of knowledge and observe the rules of etiquette; learn how to work with the right ingredients in the kitchen; and acquire the discipline to keep your lust in check until the right moment.
The inheritance encompasses three books, written by Gabriela's own hand. Part memoir, part instructional, they follow the old South American Proverb, "A woman must be a lady in the living room, a chef in the kitchen, and a courtesan in the bedroom." Gabriela talks of her childhood, of her love for an unsuitable man, and of her eventual marriage to an Englishman that her parents heartily approved of.
We get a real taste for the culture of Venezuela over the two generations, the surprising formality, the almost chess like relationships, especially between men and women. Gabriela means to teach her granddaughter...and the reader...how to master the key words in the proverb, but not to master the male sex as much as to master ourselves. She tells us of the beauty secrets that are used to make women irresistible, yet they are focused on finding the center of beauty in one's own self. Gabriela writes: "Even when you are alone in your bed," my mother used to say, "endeavor to regard yourself with respect. Feel lovely inside. Caress your own hair and wear exquisite undergarments, even if no one but you will take pleasure in seeing them." I also liked the idea that you should find a trademark perfume, and stick to it through out your life, that it should be a personal calling card, a signature...which makes sense. How many times have you smelled something even as mundane as soap, and thought of someone you loved?
She also includes recipes, succulent and exotic sounding dishes, and the festivities that they often grace. She writes of food in a way that is incredibly sensual, that often shows what an exquisite and complete experience the act of eating can be. The sexual connotations aren't puerile, but they bring forth the idea that good food can be a celebration of life, can be a completion of its own kind. It can also be a seduction for a woman who wants to tangle her husband a bit more in her clutches.
What helps this is that Marisol has a command of language that is impressive. She writes eloquently of the traditions and morals of the lives of her characters, creating strong people and beautiful imagery that enables us to experience things on all the same sense levels that Gabriela and Pilar do. Pilar, we learn through the small sections of her own story, is any one of us. Someone struggling to find her identity or her essence, as her grandmother calls it, someone who isn't sure what she needs to do to both find that essence and fulfill herself. It's not a question that any of us can answer easily...do any of us know, truly, what it is that we need to find that center of ourselves, what will satisfy our own hungers and passions for life?
Gabriela, for all we that feel empathy for her, isn't the every woman Pilar is. She comes from a different time, and besides, she has found her essence, and even though we travel with her to reach that epiphany, we already know that, in fact, she has reached it...she is above us, a mentor lovingly passing on her secrets.
The beautiful language, the recipes, the underlying eroticism all join together to make this book feel like a magical secret tome. Parts of many of the conversations are in Spanish, and this language, itself lyrical and sensual, helps in making this book seem like a sacred grimoire, a key to finding the beautiful woman inside all of us. In some ways it's a reaffirmation of a lost art. Feminism combined with long work hours and trying to keep our lives running smoothly has robbed us of the art of being a woman. The rules between the sexes seem to change daily, and what I was told by my own family seems to have no relevance with my own reality. The book reminds us of the old ways, encourages us to find a way back.Just remember: "That which men can't have makes them want it all the more."
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Lady, the Chef, and the Courtesan at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Lady, The Chef and the Courtesan (August 2003)
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- Bookloons review of The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan
- Curled Up review of The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan
- BookReporter.com review of The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan
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About the Author:
Marisol (Konczal) has been a fashion model, banker, belly dancer, chef, aerobics and college language instructor, and most recently, a public relations professional. A native of Venezuela, she currently lives in Denver.