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Chef: A Novel Paperback – April 13, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Serves up the memories both delicious and bitter… Singh adroitly blends lyrical accounts of Kip’s past with sensual renderings of the cold climate and piquant cuisine.”—Library Journal

“[Singh] writes lyrically… The rippling effects of religious and cultural prejudice infuse this whole, complex story, leaving no character in Singh’s poetic, thought-provoking tale untouched.”—Booklist

“A kaleidoscopic journey through one of the most beautiful yet besieged areas in the world—Jaspreet Singh brings out the full poetry and heartbreak of Kashmir.”—Manil Suri, author of The Age of Shiva and The Death of Vishnu

Chef is a haunting evocation of the emotional and physical landscapes of war-torn Kashmir. Jaspreet Singh is a very learned, gifted, and sensitive writer.”—Basharat Peer, author of Curfewed Night

“Jaspreet Singh’s Chef carries the scents of cardamom, ice, and sweat; is written with such a keen sense of rhythm that you can hear the book as you read it; and is placed not only between India and Pakistan but intriguingly between delicate cuisines and crude politics. The novel is transporting—an experience that is not easily laid to rest.”—Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod and Salt

“Jaspreet Singh has the soul of a poet and the pen of a novelist. Chef is an intricate, subtle, and beautiful book.”—P. K. Page, author of Cosmologies

“This is courageous writing that asks, and faces the impossibility of one-way answers to, questions of loyalty, love, ownership, and death.”—Daphne Marlatt, author of The Given

Chef is easily one of the best first novels I’ve read in the past ten years. Singh takes on life as it is, with its lust, its mindless rivalry, its brutality and its redemptive epiphanies that never quite pan out, with an attention to detail that … is magnified rather than lessened by Singh’s exact and tender prose.”—Alberta Views

Chef is an accomplished debut novel that portends even greater things from Singh.”—Montreal Gazette

“The forlorn beauty of Kashmir … has never been portrayed so elegantly as in this novel.”—Montreal Serai

“Like the people of India, the country’s food varies from region to region, with no simple consensus on how to prepare anything. But in Jaspreet Singh’s outstanding debut novel, as the characters learn to understand the origins of their food, they begin to understand each other… Quintessentially Indian, Chef is a book that eschews complex prose in favor of authenticity. Touching in its deft handling of Kip’s journey into maturity, Chef  helps its readers realize that true understanding comes when you recognize not only how people are alike, but also how they are different.”—Bookpage

“An artful and mostly beautifully poised indictment of the shameful role of India in the political and human-rights hell that is Kashmir now… The great strength of this brave book is its technique of indirection in imparting information to the reader. Singh comes at things aslant, seemingly casually; when their importance is revealed, it comes to the unsuspecting reader with the weight and shock of an unsuspected explosion.”—NeelMukherjee.com

“[A] luminous novel… Jaspreet Singh creates a swirl of sensual allusions, from the herbs and spices of Indian cooking, to the silken allure of women Kip dares not touch, to the withering heat of the subcontinent and the unearthly cold of the Kashmiri peaks. The sensuality adorns without obscuring the solemn core of the story.”—Boston Globe

“Jaspreet Singh’s sense of rhythm and his lyricism move the novel fluidly through time. Kirpal’s journey is complex and layered like any flavorful dish. Sit back and delight in this delectable story.” —Sacramento Book Review

“Unfortunately, I've already finished Chef by Jaspreet Singh…an ideal summer read for anyone who loves to eat and loves to cook, too.” —Hungry for Paris

“The most mesmerizing novel I’ve read this spring.” —James Mustich, Barnes & Noble Review

"Thought-provoking...Throughout, Singh’s writing is lean and muscular, pithy and precise. Observations carry the ring of truth and linger in the mind." —PopMatters

About the Author

Jaspreet Singh is a former research scientist who holds a PhD in chemical engineering from McGill University. His debut collection of short stories, Seventeen Tomatoes: Tales from Kashmir won the 2004 McAuslan First Book Prize, and his stories have appeared in The Walrus and Zoetrope. Born in Punjab and brought up in Kashmir, Singh now lives in British Columbia.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190854
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190850
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I enjoyed this book; but I didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping to.
Dick Johnson
Another theme is unrequited love both on a personal level and the unrequited love for one's country and countrymen.
Cynthia
This is a messy book, confusing, a jumble of styles, and with little clear line.
Roger Brunyate

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on May 4, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the reason we readers read, for books such as this. There seems to be a trend for inward books recently and this falls into that category. There is plot but mostly to hang thoughts and feelings on. Kip, is a Sikh working in Srinagar as an Army Chef attached to a powerful General's house. The world outside their house is at war. Kip is a quiet, contemplative man and the attention he receives is second hand, mostly associated with the heroic deeds of his soldier father. When people meet Kip they seem to not see him. They talk at him about his dad's exploits. Even his name has been modified by the General from Kirpal to Kip. By the way if you're a foody this is only peripherally about cooking and food though the sights, sounds, smells of Indian cuisine are interwoven throughout the book as you follow Kip around the kitchen but more as metaphor or as a description of place and mood. Sometimes the list of dishes or ingredients almost sound like poetry.

Mostly this book is about political issues that plague India, Pakistan and the pivot is Kashmir. Kashmir is where the best and the worst play out. Another theme is unrequited love both on a personal level and the unrequited love for one's country and countrymen. Both these loves almost break Kip and it does break some of the other characters. I don't want to give the impression this is a philosophy book though that's here. Singh shows the human rights offenses with a deft touch. Bombs don't go off in your face; the prose builds up layer upon layer until there's a slow implosion. I kept thinking, "he doesn't mean that, surely not", and then, with dread, "he does mean that". It makes the horror more real but without having to wipe blood off your face. The relationships have a push pull that read frighteningly close to real life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By NaughtiLiterati VINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It has taken me so long to review this book and I am ashamed of myself because I tore it out of the box the day it arrived and did not put it down until I was finished. What a beautiful story, such AMAZING language and a heartbreaking but fulfilling storyline. I highly recommend this book to any people in love with the culture and its history and someone who wants to see how a good novel is beatifully done.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a messy book, confusing, a jumble of styles, and with little clear line. At the same time, it is curiously fascinating to read, reflecting something authentically Indian in its bright jangle. Or perhaps merely the messy paradise of its setting: Kashmir, that Himalayan jewel that has been the scene of bloody wars between India and Pakistan ever since Partition.

Kirpal Singh (Kip) is a chef who learned his profession in the household of General Kumar, then the commander of Indian forces in Kashmir -- forces in which his father had served before him as a distinguished officer until his death in a plane crash. At the beginning of the book, Kip receives a letter from General, now Governor, Kumar to cater the wedding of his daughter, whom he had known as a child. Although he has recently been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, Kip accepts, and the physical journey becomes also a journey into his past. Two relationships stand out. His predecessor, Chef Kichen, not only instructs Kip about cooking (in what seems an absurdly short time) but also offers harder lessons in love, since Kip was then a virgin and feared he would remain so. Then there is Irem, a beautiful Moslem woman arrested for entering Indian Kashmir illegally. Is she a terrorist or a victim? Kip's fascination and tentative friendship with her reaches across such lines, but it is not a strong enough narrative thread to sew together the latter half of the book.

The use of food as a running metaphor in novels has been overdone of late. In Jaspreet Singh's writing, it can create a exciting clash of colors and spices, but seldom offers lasting sustenance. Here he is, though, at his most exuberant: "Kashmir! You are my half-chilled soup, minced cilantro, my zaman pilaf. Bittersweet chukunder. Rista. Aab gosht.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph R. Furshong on April 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
Kashmir is one of those place names that carries contradictory meanings. It symbolizes decades of conflict between India and Pakistan and is a region of seemingly unending strife. But, the famed Vale of Kashmir and the Himalayas are also symbols and their beauty has been described by travelers over many centuries.

This is Kirpal's story, of his apprenticeship when he was a teenager, to Chef, the cook for an Indian military official in Srinigar, capital of Kashmir. Kirpal, called "Kip", learns more than cooking in Chef's kitchen. This is his introduction to a larger life and to Kashmir itself. Kashmir is in truth an occupied country and the shellfire between Indian and Pakistani forces on the nearby Siachen Glacier is background to the activities of daily life. Hindus and Muslims live side by side, but the Hindus are the occupiers and the Muslims the occupied.

Though from Delhi, Kip has a connection to this landscape through his father, a military officer who died while serving in Kashmir. During his apprenticeship he comes in contact with a Kashmiri woman, Irem, who is suspected of being a terrorist. He is drawn to her beauty, her reserve, her story, but he is unable to do more than visit her in the hospital and later in prison.

The story opens though, when Kip is middle-aged and returning to Kashmir as a favor to the military officer who originally employed him. With almost lyrical language, Singh lets Kip's story unfold, almost as if told to a fellow passenger on one of the long train rides that figure in the story.

With the recent popularity of Indian authors in recent years, it is refreshing to read this spare, well-written first novel. Jaspreet Singh writes with impressive confidence about Kip and about this fascinating landscape.
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