Chefs are the unsung heroes and heroines of our modern "take out" day and age. Each day and night they run meticulous, creative marathons, their glory and delight coming from the sight of familiar and new faces asking for "a little more".
Keeping this in mind, Bharti Kirchner ups the energy a bit and makes her protagonist Sunya Malhotra the owner cum baker of a café aptly called "Pastries", a twenty-seater bakery near downtown Seattle - a story setting that abounds with possibilities, many of which Kirchner deftly exploits.
Sunya, a young twenty-nine-year-old Indian-American woman named after the Sanskrit word sunyatta (emptiness) starts her journey in Pastries contemplating all her failures, in love and in life. Abandoned by her father, Prabhu Malhotra, during infancy, Sunya and her mother, Deepika, spend years trying to make peace with Prabhu’s unexplained departure. This parallel track looms consistently throughout the book, while Sunya struggles with coping with an unexpected single identity and an equally unanticipated career threat. How Sunya reaches another level of personal growth, perceptible enough to comprehend that "sunyatta" also means the emptiness that heralds a sense of possibility, forms the rest of the tale.
Though the plot has a certain predictable quality to it at times and the men in the novel might come across as a little too two-dimensional, Kirchner succeeds in drawing you in by showcasing her female characters with warmth and complexity. Also, Kirchner’s background as a food writer and cookbook author is inescapable - she writes about baking with a love that makes you fearless enough to want to try your hand at your own signature cake a la Sunya.
Pastries is soft and light, just like its namesake. And if you are a Kirchner fan or a foodie it is a must-read: the perfect accompaniment to a lazy weekend, a day in the park or even a ride back home on the commuter train.