Review of ‘Umami’ by Laia Jufresa

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Umami is a novel set in Mexico City that follows the residents of five houses (named after the flavours sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami) all of whom are experiencing some form of loss or grief. The story has five narrators, there is twelve-year-old Ana trying to make sense of the death of her little sister, Luz; Marina, an artist recovering from anorexia who creates colours to describe emotions; Alfonso, an anthropologist mourning the death of his vivacious wife, Noelia (who was in life grieving her own childlessness); Pina, Ana’s friend and neighbour, trying to understand her mother’s unexplained departure from the family, and finally, Luz, describing the events leading up to her death.

Umami has an unusual and non-linear structure, each chapter focuses on one character during a particular year starting with Ana in 2004, switching to Marina in 2003, then Alfonso in 2002, Luz in 2001 and Pina in 2000, before returning to Ana and working backwards again. The time and character shifts can seem disorientating at first but it allows the story to unfurl gradually and shows how seemingly ordinary interactions between the characters can take on greater meaning and significance once the consequences are fully revealed.

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Umami is a short novel that tackles some big themes such as loss, grief and identity. As Ana and Pina take their first awkward steps towards adolescence, Alfonso is adjusting to his own transition from husband to widower and also describes Noelia’s struggle with her own identity as a wife and respected cardiologist but “only a daughter” because of her childlessness, while Marina attempts to overcome anorexia, an abusive childhood and work out who she is.

The sense of loss that permeates through the novel isn’t the tidal waves of sorrow, anger and shock that wash over us when grief is fresh, but the dull ache of missing someone that never really goes away no matter how many years pass, and of slowly trying to find a new purpose in life.

The slow and thoughtful pace of Umami has been a pleasant contrast to the busy-ness at work and home in my own life over the last few weeks, and Umami is a poignant but hopeful novel that lingers long after the story ends.

A Postcard from Argyll

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Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.

Liebster Award ❤️

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It was just over a year ago that I started my little blog, and last week I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Typewriter Girl contacted me to let me know she’d nominated me for a Liebster Award. Liebster is a German word meaning dearest, sweetheart or beloved, and the Liebster Award is a virtual honour passed from blogger to blogger as a way of supporting and promoting each other.

The rules of the Liebster Award are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog
  • Answer the questions your nominator asked you
  • Nominate 5-11 other blogs (and don’t forget to let them know)
  • Ask your nominations up to 11 questions or facts about themselves.

Here are the answers to the questions I was asked:

What is your favourite part of blogging?
I really enjoy taking photos for my blog, but I also love being part of such a friendly and welcoming community.

What country, city or continent would you most like to visit and why?
There are so many places I’d love to visit but at the moment I’d really like to visit Mexico, I love the cuisine, culture and I’m interested in the history. I’d also love to tour the Scandinavian countries in a camper van chasing the Northern Lights and maybe even spotting a troll. 😉

What was the most inspirational time in your life so far?
Probably around our wedding as we made most of the decorations and favours ourselves, some of it was a bit rough around the edges but it was a really fun and crafty project. After the wedding, I knew I wanted another creative project and started scribbling ideas and thinking about this blog.

What are you passionate about?
My family and friends, my cat and practising gratitude every day.

What is your favourite book and why?
This is such a difficult question! Maybe the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling because I re-read them more often than any other books. I also love A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, it’s very moving and I love stories within stories.

What is your favourite time of year?
My favourite season is autumn, I love the colours of the leaves and the gradual transition from the fading light and warmth to the first frosts and cosiness.

What are your other interests besides blogging?
Reading, cooking (and eating!), gardening, walking and exploring new places, photography and yoga – all the things I blog about.

Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
As forests aren’t one of the options, I’ll have to choose the beach.

Where did you go for your most memorable vacation?
We visited Japan for our honeymoon, and it was a dream come true because it’s a country I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child. I loved the food and the contrast between the old shinto shrines and the neon skyscrapers. I hope we’ll go back one day.

Do you prefer a sunny or rainy day?
I’m from Scotland so definitely sunny days because they’re so rare!

If you had a day all to yourself, how would you spend it?
Pottering about in the garden in the morning, visiting a bookshop in the afternoon followed by a peaceful and refreshing stroll along a beach or through a forest, then curling up at home with my cat and a book to read.

In no particular order, I nominate:

If you would like to accept the award (and there’s no pressure to at all!) feel free to answer the questions below and nominate up to 11 other blogs.

  1. What advice would you give to other bloggers?
  2. Other than blogging, what are your hobbies?
  3. Do you have any pets?
  4. Tea or coffee?
  5. What’s your favourite book and why?
  6. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
  7. What’s your favourite quote or personal mantra?
  8. Have you ever won any awards or trophies offline?
  9. What’s your favourite weather?
  10. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Once again, thanks to Typewriter Girl for nominating me. Wishing everyone a happy Monday and have a lovely week!