Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender

“On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair.

Soon, she’s privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.”

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a novel from 2010 created by the writer Aimee Bender. It introduces the reader to Rose Edelstein and her life from age 8 to 22, a period that starts with and is affected by Rose being able to taste people’s feeling in the food they cook. She realizes that her family may not be as happy and normal as they seem, and while experiencing the troubles of a normal child’s life, she also has to fight the so-called curse of tasting despair, sadness and pain everywhere she goes.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is easily one of my favorite books. It is fresh and original, and the connection between storytelling and metaphors is quite brilliant. I will admit that I didn’t think I would enjoy this book so much, and I started reading the novel as a quick funny read. It ended up being so much more than that and I am very glad that I bought this book.

To start off simple, the front cover of the novel is genius; after reading for a while I realized that the cover shows a lemon-chocolate cake with the shadow of a human being, and I think it’s a great way to show what the story is about.

Sometimes leaps back and forth through time can be confusing and simply annoying, but Aimee Bender uses it very well. The plot becomes more interesting and the novel is full of suspense, because you won’t know what to expect and what is really going on.

Often the suspense was so intense that it got to a point where I found it strangely eerie, which I of course don’t mind at all. This eeriness was possible because the novel is written so that you only know exactly what Rose knows, and you realize things at the same pace as Rose does. There were points where I was extremely desperate to know what was going on, just like Rose herself was, and I think that this shared fear of the unknown was what created this eeriness that I really enjoyed. It also made it possible, as the reader, to feel part of the story.

As for Rose Edelstein, she is probably one of the most likeable characters and narrators I’ve ever read about in a book. First of all, she has this amazingly original ability to taste people’s feelings – it is both interesting and sad, and throughout the novel I often felt genuinely sorry for the main character. The narration also made it obvious that the plot revolves around Rose’s family, maybe even more than around herself, and I found this kind of focus to be nice and interesting.

This was an extremely strange and very tense and suspenseful read, and I really recommend it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (English), 292 pages, Anchor Books

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