Jessica Soffer's debut novel Tomorrow there will be Apricots (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the unlikely story of a relationship between a 14 year old young woman named Lorca whose disconnected chef mom is ready to send her off to boarding school after Lorca displays alarming behaviors and an older Iraqi-Jewish woman named Victoria who is dealing with her own regrets, loss and personal demons. The two cross paths over a love of food and a need to find meaning and hope in their predicaments. Needless to say, the two help each other deal with the blows life has dealt them through their love of food and cooking which includes cardamon pistachio cookies and baklava. Ms. Soffer was nice enough to correspond with Mark and Lynn about her lovely, bittersweet book, as well as her own culinary heritage and habits.
M & L: A lot of foodie (sorry for using that overused word) oriented literature/memoirs these days has an overlay of feel good female empowerment-Your work goes into some fairly dark places. Were you afraid that the intensity of the narrative would overwhelm the themes of food and culture in your work.
JS: "I really wanted to play with that notion. Food can be so much more. On one hand, it is a magnet, bringing the characters together, allowing them to transcend their loneliness—and, for sure, the element of food brings some necessary lightness into the narrative. But I was also concerned with the ways in which food can be a catalyst for feelings of nostalgia, sadness, grief, pain: all that equally so."
M & L : Why do you think the creative act of cooking has become such a popular subject matter for memoirs and fiction? Why do you think women tend to gravitate towards this genre?
JS : "I just met with a book club with as many men as women—and the men cooked recipes from Apricots. I’ve found that men are as concerned with food in fiction as women. That said, I do think it’s an issue of marketing: how best to sell the book. And women are, quite simply, more active book consumers—so when a book can be geared toward female readers, a publisher’s best bet is to do just that."
M & L :A lot of the book revolves around cultivating and honoring the cuisine of your own Iraqi Jewish heritage. Does this cuisine still influence your interest in food and cooking?
JS: "Absolutely. My father’s mother was a healer in Baghdad and believed in eating for one’s well being, to nourish the body. I was raised with notions of mindful eating, of a respect and particular awareness of food, and I imagine they will always be an important part of my life, and for the foreseeable future, of my writing."
M & L: Having woven themes about food into your work here can you imagine orienting your work around food again?
JS: "Food has been a really great way to connect with readers: cooking with them, sharing tips and stories. We’ve decided to include additional recipes in the paperback, and I’m excited to see how that changes the readers’ experience, if it works."
M & L: Do you have a particular food you like to prepare? A favorite place to eat?
JS: "We’ve just moved full-time to Amagansett and joined a CSF called Dock to Dish, which delivers fish once a week to the consumer within 24 hours of being caught locally. So there’s been a lot of fish in our lives lately, paired with all the good stuff from farm stands. We seared Montauk scallops the other day, and made a nectarine and arugula salad. It was just what the doctor ordered—or, should I say, what the healer ordered?"