'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.’
'Guaranteed to challenge and move you' - VogueLaia Jufresa
‘A wonderfully surprising novel, powered by wit, exuberance and nostalgia.’ Chloe Aridjis, author of Sea Monsters
A captivating portrait of contemporary Mexico, cut through with dazzling wit and sensitivity
It started with a drowning.
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.
‘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’.
'This book was one of my favorites this year'