Discovering more authors from countries not frequently on the top media pages for their literary achievements was part of my NYE resolution. Luckily, a book that I wanted to read for a long time, Umami, by the Mexican Laia Jufresa was my first book in what I hope it will be a long row of interesting bookish discoveries in 2018.
In the Melldrop Mews in Mexico City, there are five houses named: Sour, Bitter, Salty, Sweet and Umami. Their residents are telling their stories of loss, personal struggle, abandonment, loneliness and sense of the ending. A poet by formation, Laia Jufresa whose book I've read in the English translation - although my knowledge of the Spanish language would have allow me to grasp a basic understanding of the book too - creates beautiful stories of deep humanity and moving simplicity.
The dialogues are built through simple words and colourful description, part of a permanent search for bringing sense and order to the world through words. The way we use the words, with or without translation, and their meanings and sentimental value, is part of a larger investigation about human nature and mortality. This reflection by one of the characters, Marina, dealing with eating disorder, is relevant for the many question marks of the book: '(...) English takes the edges off things, makes them feel less serious, a bit like scribbling mustaches on photos. For example, once translated, the names of her favourite group changed from abstract poetry to random nouns: the cranberries, smashing pumpkins, blind melon, red hot chili peppers, fool's garden'.
Umami, which in my edition was also adorned with a simple yet meaningful cover, is one of those books that you want to keep reading and reading again because you simply forgot where is your real world and where the world of the book is. There are no limits and as in every worthwhile exercise of imagination, you are flying away to colourful worlds painted with words.
I would be very curious to keep discovering this author, eventually by reading some of her poetry, eventually in the original language.
Rating: 4 stars