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Garlic Kisses

Author: Chester Aaron
Genre: Non-Fiction
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

543It doesn’t take long to realize that this writer a.) knows a lot of people and b.) that he’s passionate, not just about the garlic he farms but also about life. Chester Aaron is what might be called a ‘jack of all trades’, a man who has served in WWII, taught literature, been an x-ray technician and for the past twenty or so years he’s grown specialist garlics and written a number of books (including novels for young people). He’s no shrinking violet either and plugs his previous books and poster throughout this offering:

“I have two books published about garlic and a poster and they’re selling all over the world.” (page 7)
This book is a selection of twelve stories (eleven about different people and one about his cat Sadie), the main ‘character’ of each story having touched his life in some way. They are not all ‘struggles’ despite the book’s subtitle. The tone of the stories ranges from nostalgic (reflecting on what could have been), to hilarious and all permutations in between. Each chapter is introduced with some facts about various garlics, each garlic perfectly chosen to ‘flavor’ the story which follows.

As a reader, you’ll learn a lot about the growing and harvesting of garlic – details are peppered throughout the prose. You’ll also learn about the many fascinating varieties including: Transylvanian, Red Toch, Bengal Purple, Creole Red and many more, and how they came to be in Chester’s possession. You’ll never look at garlic in quite the same way again! However, you don’t need to be a garlic lover (if you are you’ll enjoy the recipes at the end, not least for their unorthodox format) to enjoy this bundle of stories.

As you read through the stories you’ll be surprised to discover that the author is nearing (or is currently) 80 years old. His zest for life would put many of my 20-year-old students to shame! The years aren’t chronologically presented however and the stories switch from when he’s 76 in one chapter to 79 in the next (chapters 10 & 11) This can sometimes be disorienting. However, once you become accustomed to this author’s brand of story-telling (including his dry wit) the lack of chronology of the years ceases to matter.

And his sense of humor is wonderful! My favorite story in the book is the one about Saddle Bags, the Hell’s Angel:

“Saddle Bags grabbed me and heaved me up and into his chest. I thought he was wrapped with barbed wire, but it was only his beard hanging free.” (page 122)

I also enjoyed Chapter 5 about Sadie his cat and the story about Teenie Biaggo and how she overcame her fear of bats.

Chester is not a fan of food writers (an understatement) and goes his own way when describing his beloved garlics. His name-dropping of American food writers means nothing to me, a European, but I got his ‘drift’! His words ring with genuineness, but unfortunately he has a tendency to repeat himself (scapes/planting dates/about his books and poster).

One of the many gifts this author has is his ability to capture the ‘voice’ of various cultures – Italian, German, Slavic (but not in my opinion Irish) etc., and I’m not talking about dialect. He also sets the scene well:

“It is a glorious evening. The sun is red above the western redwoods. The breeze coming in from the ocean carries a scent of brine.” (page 66)

and:

“I look down across the field at the spread of boxes, at the garlic growing tall and green, at the hardnecks just beginning to send up their scapes, and I line up all the joys that have shared my life here in this home, in this field.” (page 170)

Overall, a way to describe this book in one sentence would be: “He started slow but won me over by the middle.” He admits to liking cats, dogs and Irish females. I hope this Irish female has done his book justice. It is a gem. Now where is my cooking pan? I’ve garlic to fry!

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May 7, 2004 in Nonfiction | Permalink

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