Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious twelve-year-old still coming to terms with the mysterious death of her little sister years earlier. Over the rainy, smoggy summer she decides to plant a vegetable garden in the courtyard, and as she digs the ground and plants her seeds, her neighbors in turn delve into their past. As the ripple effects of grief, childlessness, illness and displacement saturate their stories, secrets seep out and questions emerge - Who was my wife? Why did my mom leave? Can I turn back the clock? And how could a girl who knew how to swim drown?
Using five voices to tell the singular story of life in an inner city mews, Umami is a quietly devastating novel of missed encounters, missed opportunities, missed people, and those who are left behind. Compassionate, surprising, funny and inventive, it deftly unpicks their stories to offer a darkly comic portrait of contemporary Mexico, as whimsical as it is heart-wrenching.
|Subject||Fiction, Translated Fiction|
'A lovely novel about family, friendship and community that is told through multiple points of view from people living in a small development in Mexico City. The range in characters from the recently widowed landlord, to the twenty year old “spinster” struggling to eat, to the girl building a milpa whose sister recently passed, all beautifully ties together through community, allowing for the exploration of many kinds of grief.’
‘Umami is a debut novel that I am afraid has been criminally under-read, a slim book about community and loss that somehow doesn't feel as heavy as it could. Told from multiple perspectives within a building complex in Mexico City, it feels as if the early chapters are short stories with little in common, but Laia Jufresa magically layers them on top of each other, illuminating the secret sorrows that connect them all. It's beautifully translated by Sophie Hughes, a tall order because of the different kinds of language all of the characters use. In the end, Umami isn't resolved in the ways a traditional novel would be - but it's satisfying and moving.'
‘Umami is narrated by a child - a very, very funny child - as she grapples with the death of her sister. The novel expands to the lives of her neighbors in Mexico City, and something very special happens as their stories begin to intersect and merge. File this under the "makes-you-a-better-person" heading.'
‘Jufresa's evocative portrait of contemporary Mexico lends whimsy with poignancy. Guaranteed to challenge and move you.'
‘Umami offers the enticing prospect of a vast and filthy megalopolis being opened up'.
'Umami is true to its whimsical premise, the narrative a little sweet, a little salty, by turns bitter and sour. Very umami, and very funny at times despite the tragedies that mark each household. The setup could admittedly become tired over 250-plus pages, but Jufresa also works an innovative structure that leaves the reader questioning until the end.'
‘In Umami, language itself is a character. The talents of Sophie Hughes are displayed in Marina's constant wordplay which comes alive in her sensitive and playful translation. Jufresa's talent for neologism and her inventive structure give the novel a lightness of touch that never undermines its revelations, but rather enhances them.'
'This book is such a gentle and sensitive deep dive into the cycles of mourning and loss out of which families are made and unmade, terrifying and uncanny, without ever losing sight of the daily banalities of hearth and home and love. Cooked to perfection, ready to serve.'
‘Grief, though, is neither defined by culture nor constrained by time. Yes, Jufresa could have written Umami the "normal” way - a single perspective in chronological order with first person the whole way through - instead of this backwards telescope, alternating voices and switching perspectives between first and close third. That version of Umami would be a dark, bitter thing, like molasses in the coffee grounds. Instead, Jufresa and Hughes offer a version that is complex without weight, a saffron purée. Dynamic and delicate, Umami draws our attention without pretense.'
‘Jufresa directly appeals to any reader who was once a 12-year-old girl obsessed with Agatha Christie (*cough* me), but also, and truly, this is a gorgeous book that meditates on loss and grief, healing and redemption, and also offers an enchanting look into life in contemporary Mexico.'
‘A tale of five lives in one block in Mexico City's inner city - in a complex designed with human tastebuds in mind - this sad and funny novel has already snagged awards, and was dubbed an "international hot property” by PW when the English rights were sold.'
‘Presents an evocative and sensory insight to its central American setting…The five voices and the jumpy timeline require a little patience, but perseverance pays off'.
‘Fans of contemporary literature are in for a treat'.
‘Reading Umami is like traveling through the minds of everyone we know, guided by a soft, reliable voice that tells us: stop, listen, observe.'
‘A wonderfully surprising novel, powered by wit, exuberance and nostalgia.'
‘Umami's style is whimsical and inventive…[it]'s heart, charm and originality are a welcome addition to Mexican literature'.
'Ms Jufresa: Where the f*#! did you learn to tell a story so well?'
'Jufresa, an extremely talented young writer, deploys multiple narrators, giving each a chance to recount their personal histories, and the questions they're still asking. Panoramic, affecting, and funny, these narratives entwine to weave a unique portrait of present-day Mexico. '