Reviews for Land of milk and honey

Publishers Weekly
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Zhang’s exquisite and seductive second novel (after How Much of These Hills Is Gold) centers on an unnamed chef, 29, who is trying to survive in the wake of an environmental catastrophe that wreaked havoc on the earth’s biodiversity. Raised in Los Angeles by a single immigrant mother, the chef chased complex flavors and busy kitchens since she was 19. But when the disaster decimated kitchen ingredients and shuttered borders, she was left cooking with years-old fish and bioengineered flour: “Chef had lost its meaning... like fresh.” In a desperate attempt to change her surroundings, she takes a head chef position at a secretive food research community on the mountainous Italian-French border, which holds a surprising storeroom with the world’s last strawberries, Parmigiano, and boar meat. Her transition to cooking for investors she cannot meet is difficult—she has no access to the outside world and she can’t stomach the rich food. But she becomes preoccupied with Aida, the boss’s mischievous 20-year-old daughter, who shows up to test her cooking. Aida and her father see their facility as the planet’s last hope, and the chef soon learns that her role extends beyond food to enabling a world that caters to their ambition. Wrestling with her desire for both excitement and stability, the chef must squash the inner voice that asks, “Hadn’t I meant to feed anyone else?” Emotionally captivating and raw, this masterpiece will be enjoyed to the last bite. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (Sept.)

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Climate disaster provides both setting and a sense of urgency to Zhang’s second novel. “I fled to that country because I would have gone anywhere, done anything, for one last taste of green sharp enough to pierce the caul of my life.” A cloud of smog has enveloped the Earth, hiding the sun and killing most of the planet’s food crops. A young chef takes a job at an “elite research community” perched atop an Italian mountain. Her employer is enigmatic and unnerving. His daughter is brilliant and headstrong. And the chef soon discovers that she is imprisoned in a simulacrum of paradise bound by secrets and ghosts. But, as she cooks lavish meals for those who can afford to escape the smog, she has access to crème fraîche, strawberries, and a French breed of chicken that should be extinct. To say that the narrator represents the moral center of this universe is not to say that she is incorruptible. This is, among other things, a story of what survival looks like in a world riven by gross inequality, and the narrator’s choices are driven by self-interest. Often, those choices come with a side order of self-loathing—a familiar dynamic for many participating in late capitalism. None of this, however, should suggest that Zhang has written a manifesto. Instead, she reminds us of what it’s like to be embodied and living on Earth with sumptuous scenes of food and sex. Zhang earned bountiful accolades—including being longlisted for the Booker Prize—for How Much of These Hills Is Gold (2020), and her skills have only increased since she wrote her stunning debut. Mournful and luscious, a gothic novel for the twilight of the Anthropocene Era. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

This might be how the end begins. Near-global smog leads to the occlusion of the sun. Under these harrowing conditions, the 29-year-old narrator, a disappointment to her Chinese immigrant mother, lands a job as a cook in an exclusive institution atop an Italian mountain. A megarich entrepreneur, with the help of his daughter, Aida, is clinging to the last food bounties. As chef, the narrator has to spin one impressive dish after the other to satiate hungry investors. But she soon finds that her role, including her relationship with Aida, has morphed. And the locals are battering down the ramparts for a slice of the Edenic pie. Zhang (How Much of These Hills Is Gold, 2020) paints an image of the promised land of milk and honey that saturates the senses. Practically every sentence is gold; for instance, “The simmer of her rage was intoxicating, heady, the surface of a broth about to boil and release its pungent scent,” Zhang writes of Aida. The narrator struggles to reconcile her new world with the one she left behind even as she is consumed by her appetites for food, for love, for survival. Ending on a hopeful note, this sumptuous feast is an absolute marvel. Savor every delicious morsel.