Thursday, May 20, 2010

352. The Invention of Curried Sausage – Uwe Timm

History: This book was published in 1995.
Plot: Traveling back to his childhood neighborhood, the narrator meets with one of his mother's neighbors, who lived through WWII in Hamburg, one of the most devastated cities in Germany. Already as a child he bought curried sausage (Currywurst) from her - and by trying to unravel how this strange dish came to be, he discovers how one's woman life was changed.
In search of the primal recipe, the narrator finds the very same Mrs. Lena Brucker in a nursing home, where she agrees to tell him how her love affair with a young naval officer led to a series of cagey business deals, and to a culinary inspiration. With a husband and two grown children away in the war, Lena Brucker meets at the cinema a young soldier who, failing to leave her flat next morning, becomes a deserter secreted by her there.
Her story begins in 1945, on the day of Hitler's marriage to Eva Braun, which happens to be the day of her chance meeting (on line to buy movie tickets) with Petty Officer Bremer. An air raid forces the couple to seek refuge in a shelter; later they flee to the apartment where she lives alone, abandoned by her husband and closely monitored by nosy neighbors and Gestapo informants.
Soon the neighbors are discussing the mysterious footsteps that are heard in her apartment while she is away at work in the food rationing office. For Bremer has gone AWOL, at least partly in order to remain in Mrs. Brucker's bed. He passes his time doing crossword puzzles, compulsively cleaning the kitchen and worrying that he will be betrayed to the police. In the evenings, he and his hostess eat, make love, confess the truth about themselves -- and commit major lies of omission. Bremer is vague on the subject of his wife, so Mrs. Brucker feels less than obligated to tell him when the war ends and he is free to leave her apartment. Eventually though, after discovering the truth about the Jews and the concentration camps, she reveals that the war is over, in an emotional argument, leaves the apartment for a walk, and when she returns, he has left.
Eventually, her family comes back to live in the apartment, but she is restless. After forcing her husband out, she trades and bargains to open a food stand. After an accident, she mixes the curry with the ketchup, and this is the discovery of the curried sausage.
Mrs. Brucker dies, and leaves the author the remnants of the recipe, also the sweater she was knitting whilst she told the above story.
Review: A cherished German fast food sold at metropolitan kiosks, currywurst is sliced pork sausage slathered with a mixture of ketchup and curry powder. Popular legends hold that it was invented in Berlin or Hamburg or Essen, either by a bored hash slinger or someone who accidentally mixed ingredients. Timm's tale garnished the mastermind with a fictional identity and a backstory, earning comparisons to "Like Water for Chocolate" and other books and pics that link gastronomy with history and affairs of the heart.
Opening Line: “It’s been a good twelve years since I ate my last curreied sausage at Mrs. Brucker’s stand.”
Closing Line: “But there are still five complete words; capriole, ginger, rose, calypso, squirrel, and, slightly torn – even thought nobody will believe me – novella.”
Quotes: "involved in the invention of curried sausage: a naval petty officer, a silver equestrian badge, 200 squirrel skins, 24 cubic meters of lumber, a whisky-drinking, female sausage-factory owner, a British military commissary and an English beauty with red-gold hair, three bottles of ketchup, my father, choloroform, a laughing dream and much more."
Rating: Good.

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