-The world outside was looking pretty ugly. The day of reckoning had finally come for the financial markets, who had been dealing for years in fool’s gold. Unsinkable banks were now sending out SOS calls as they listed heavily. Every day, more and more sectors of the economy were getting sucked into the vortex of the financial crisis……
And, as if it could survive this imminent hurricane by retreating under its diving bell, the small Alpine country started to shut itself off again. It had barely opened up.
This is the first book I have read by the Swiss author Martin Suter, read here for the German lit month VI, the way he manages here to blend the local, personal story of the Sri Lankan chef living in exile in Switzerland, with the global situation in 2008 to 2009, using the former to illustrate the latter is to me more reminiscent of world literature, often written in English, than of my experience to date of the currents I have discovered from German language writers, hardly surprising then that it is marketed as an international best seller.
The local story is that of Maravan, a Sri Lankan exile and exceptionally good cook trying to survive in Switzerland where his status does not let him work as a chef. The global story is that of the Sri Lankan civil war which coming to its climax can find no place in the press due to world events that year, centred mostly around the world financial meltdown illustrated in my opening quote.
As Maravan and his business partner, Andrea, set up and run a two person catering services with their successful concept of’Love meals’ at private residences, based on Maravan’s mastering of Ayurvedic (aphrodisiac) cuisine, Maravan, against his will, gets sucked via blackmail, in order to prevent his nephew still in Sri Lanka from becoming a boy soldier, into financing the LTTE the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in their civil war with Sri Lanka. He is however unable to stop the inevitable and after his nephew’s death learns that one of ‘Love meals’ customers, Dalman was a middle man in bending Swiss law to allow arms to be sold to both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war.
-So it was true, Dalman was involved with people supplying arms to the army and the Liberation Tigers, why would he have anything to do with them if he was not caught up in their deals. Sambalar was right, the money he was sending his family may have been coming from the profits made by someone helping one of Maravan’s compatriots to kill each other and the money he sent to the LTTE possibly came from the LTTE who in turn were getting it from people like Maravan.
So, provided with an opportunity to eliminate Dalman, a small fish, but as is pointed out, their small fish, what should the peace minded Maravan do? Well if you want to know you will have to read the book!
First Published in German as “Der Koch” by Diogenes Verlag in 2010
Translated into English by Jamie Bulloch as ‘The Chef’ and published by Atlantic Books in 2013