Book review: Chef by Jaspreet Singh

For five years Kirpal Singh (Kip) worked as a chef for the General, based in Kashmir. Fourteen years after handing in his notice, he is asked by the General to be the chef at his daughter’s wedding. Both Kip and the General are cautious at this invitation, having not spoken since Kip’s sudden departure. The long train journey to Kashmir gives Kip a chance to relive the events that have haunted him since his time in the hills. The reader is shown young Kip’s slow awakening to the political landscape, his father’s legacy as a military man, and the motivations of people around him.

The imagery and language, however, are that of a dying man; sparse and without sentiment. His thoughts come across as somewhat stilted and cold, often giving him a desolate frame of mind. Regret and guilt surface in his recollections. Nevertheless, the backdrop of conflict in Kashmir is strongly evoked, as are the tastes and smells of Kip’s banquets, and his relationship with his mentor Kishen. On some level, the journey to Kashmir is a chance for closure (or not) with people from his past, but ultimately, Chef is a novel about secrets that “trouble our bones.”

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