Book Review – Umami

By Laia Jufresa 
Rating **
Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious twelve-year old coming to terms with the mysterious death of her little sister. Ana sets her heart on planting a garden in the shared courtyard, and as she digs ground and plants her seeds, her neighbours in turn delve into their pasts. As the ripple effects of grief, childlessness and abandonment saturate their stories, secrets seep out and questions emerge and it becomes clear that Ana is not alone in having her world turned upside down by the loss of a loved one.

First of all what is Umami? In the book according to Alf one of the main character “Umami  is the he flavour of food when it floods your taste buds without you being able to quite put your finger on it.” 

After reading the synopsis of the novel I was quite surprised at the way the book turned out, I assumed the novel would be about Ana asking her close neighbours about her sister who mysteriously died and putting the pieces of this death together to figure out what happened. I was totally wrong. The novel follows a variety of characters that all live in Belldrop Mews in the Bitter, Salty, Sweet and Sour House (connections to the tongue and the infamous Umami) Each character has a sad story to tell there is Ana whos sister mysteriously died, Alf who’s beloved wife Noelia died of cancer and her sad story of how she couldn’t have children, Pina a young girl who’s mother left her when she was young and Marina the painter who is anorexic and in therapy. So quite a bundle of sad and complex characters.

The novel took me a while to get into, it’s very slow paced and wasn’t what I was expecting. The main theme throughout is how these people are dealing with their grief. The only character that I really warmed to was Alf, he was grieving the death of his beloved wife Noelia, his first person account of how much he adored his wife, what he loved about her, what annoyed him about her, her quirks and the small cute stories was just so heart warming and poignant to read, I felt so sorry for him that he had lost his soul mate and wife, he was the only character that made me feel something in the book and I enjoyed reading his parts of the novel.

Each chapter was titled by what year it currently was… I found this confusing and pointless. I really wish each chapter was the name of the characters point of view e.g Alf, Ana, Marina, Pina. It would have been a lot easier to pick up which character I was reading a lot quicker. I thought the book was quite a moving novel but the story didn’t really seem to take me anywhere because there was a lack of plot, and I didn’t care for many of the characters. I think if the entire book was about Alf and his bereavement I probably would of liked it a lot more. There were parts that I thought were beautifully written, not to mention the front cover design (love it) but I don’t think I would read this again.

Umami is not something I would normally choose to read, I got this in my Reading in Heels subscription box in March. I have only subscribed to this for the last three months, but every time I have got it it’s been a book I have never read, and a book that I wouldn’t choose to pick up myself so it’s really expanded my reading.
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Have you read Umami? What did you think of this novel? I would love to know your thoughts. Thanks for reading. Katie x


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