At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reading Reflections, April 13

A young man, in a family steeped in the wretched actions of an alcoholic and abusive father, rises above the dire slough of despond and finds a way out through hard work, sheer determination, and an internal drive that screams "forward".

The memoirs of a business tycoon who revitalized an industry? A film star who wins an unexpected Oscar? A politician known for cooperation, even-handedness, and results? An athlete who stunned the world with his success? Horatio Alger? Oliver Twist?

None of the above. The enrapturing story of Ginger: A Boy's Journey from Scotland to the White House (Dunrobin Publishing, 2012) takes us on the sweeping grand adventure of Chef David Macfarlane, who went from humble beginnings in Scotland to a chef who served President Clinton and his staff. A personal story that evokes both heartache and joy, Ginger traces the human experience in toxic relationships, working class conditions, dream-chasing, and the healing power of vocational fulfillment.

Some might find it difficult to imagine a book written by a chef which is not a cookbook. As the forward ably tells the reader, this is not a cookbook. It is a cook's book. And true, this is not a more high-profile chef like Gordon Ramsay or Rachel Ray. But that is precisely what holds the reader's interest--the everyman quality, the earthiness, the sense that David Macfarlane is cut from the same human cloth as us. This solidarity draws the reader fully into the text.

Macfarlane briskly moves through the details of his life. The pace is most engaging in his early years, with much emphasis on his love for Scotland, his passion for cooking and baking, and his dysfunctional family dynamics with his father at the center of the storm. During the middle portion of the book, Macfarlane slows down the pace as he sketches the far-ranging details of his Navy career. The speed of the book, in fact, needs to slow down--and it never truly lags--during this section as there are many levels of authority, individuals, and promotions and retirements that one should take time and not hurry this area. The story culminates in Macfarlane's interviews in Washington, D.C. which blazed a trail to working in the White House food service.

Macfarlane blends both the poignant shards of human existence and a wry sense of humor on these pages. Readers might find the recollections of physical abuse especially distressing and difficult to swallow and might need a handkerchief nearby. There are references to bullying he received, for no one reason than being a redhead. Macfarlane also relates some of the political side of things in the Navy, with some people making life difficult and others being a pleasure to work for. He also has a knack for showing how the little things of life--and even the off-the-cuff responses--can make lasting impact. You'll understand how his fib "No, I don't iron" turned out to be the biggest break of his career.

One note of importance: Macfarlane is a chef telling a story. His goal is to share his heart with the reader. Keep this in mind when working through the style of the writing. It is quite informal and conversational, much like how some people will say "I write like I talk". The earthy nature of his Scottish background and passion strengthens the book itself. The reader will sense they have lived a great sequence of days that redeem initial misery and leading to a great triumph of the spirit. For this reason among others, Ginger is very much worth one's time.

1 comment:

chefmacfarlane said...

Thanks Luke. I am glad you enjoyed the book