I began listening to the audio version of The Hundred-Foot Journey and was drawn in by Neil Shah’s expressive reading and his fluency with French and Indian words. I ended up getting the book, but found that I preferred listening to Shah’s interpretation of it—which was a much needed pinch of flavor to sustain my interest to the end.
From the first line I felt drawn into the imagery, smell, scents, and foods in the book. Morais has an adept way with words, which mirrors authentically the image we are left with of the main character Hassan Haji—an unpretentious, likely character who tries to do the right thing in an effort to find his place in the world.. What is even more impressive is Morais’ connection with Indian and Parisian culture and his inside knowledge about foods and the workings of the food industry. And though this book is about Hassan’s journey to making a name for himself from the humble beginnings of his ancestral launch in the food industry, it is as much about his journey as it is about the food and what it takes to become a three star Michelin chef. Ironically, this double focus is one of the strengths of the novel, but it is also one of its flaws. In his attempt to do equal justice to the compelling story of Hassan’s rise to top chef status and to school readers in Indian and French cuisine, the two story lines compete for each other and often left me wanting less of the latter and more of the former.
Morais’ way with words and his ability to create characters who are flawed but brilliantly human and likeable like Hassan’s Father and Madame Mallory—draws the reader into the story and makes us feel deeply about these characters and champion for them in their various battles. The depth of character depiction is without doubt another great strength of the book—for I find myself still thinking of them long after I have read the last words. However, the depth of character and the great emotions that Morais is able to rouse for earlier characters in the book is not well sustained in later sections. Newly introduced characters remain mere silhouettes and again I found myself longing to know more what had happened to Hassan’s relatives and friends that he had left behind in his rise to fame. Finally, in the last few pages of the novel, as if sensing the need to tie it all together, Morais does a quick rounding up of the troops, in a rude announcement of people the reader has forgotten or barely been introduced to in the earlier sections of the book.
Overall, The Hundred-Foot journey is a delicious meal which could have been significantly improved with the omission of several courses. The first courses were phenomenal with great depth and flavor and promises of even better things to come. However, midway through the meal our appetites are sate and the fare becomes mediocre leaving us anxious for the dessert course, which though good does not quite live up to expectations. With all of that said, feasting on the first courses of this delicious book is just too good an opportunity to pass up.