Review: Soul Kitchen by Jasmin Ramadan

DUMONT, 2010/2009

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

“You can only understand the value of life as long as you can leave it behind at any moment.”

Zinos is a high school drop-out living in Hamburg-Altona, Germany. His life is at a standstill as his older brother sits in jail and his parents have returned to Greece – even his first time is over before he knows it. Soul Kitchen is a debut novel by Jasmin Ramadan and it is described as a combination of an absurd coming-of-age and a road-trip movie. It follows Zinos, the antihero who’s always seems to be unlucky in love, as his journey leads him to a tiny Greek island, to a bordello in Hamburg and eventually to Adios, a Caribbean island that resembles Paradise. After the Odyssey that almost costs him his life, Zinos opens his own restaurant, Soul Kitchen.

“This book is like the missing piece to my film. Very funny, very sad, and very frivolous.” – Fatih Akin

A few years back I saw a German comedy film, Soul Kitchen (2009), that charmed me with its complex characters and heart-warming story. The film follows the main character, Zinos, who is a German of Greek descent, and who is struggling with both his restaurant as well as with his family relations. If you have the opportunity, I’d highly suggest that you watch the film. The book with the same title, Soul Kitchen, however, takes place before the film and follows Zinos from before the opening of Soul Kitchen.

Zinos has never really though about what he’d want to do after high school. Life has been easy with a mother who cleans and cooks you dinners and an older brother who watches your back – when he is out of the hands of law, that is. Thus when his parents surprise Zinos by buying him a flat for his 18th birthday and announcing that they’re moving back to Greece, Zinos feels abandoned. The new-found freedom isn’t much when money starts running out and this leads Zinos to a job hunt at the local restaurant. Little did he know of the love for food and life that he could be kindled inside those doors. What doesn’t come across from the blurb at the back of this book is that it features a lot of cooking, with a recipe at the end of every chapter.

Soul Kitchen was my third book that I read in German in 2014, and being set in Hamburg, it featured a lot of spoken German dialect that was confusing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about Zinos as he tries to find out what it is like to be a grown-up. It was also interesting to read about the multicultural aspect in Germany in the 80s, although it wasn’t one of the bigger themes of the book. I’m glad that I read this “prequel” – although I still do prefer the film to the book. The ending of the book wrapped up a bit too quickly, and that left the connection to the film quite vague. In that aspect, I would consider this book as more of a separate work, only with the same characters as the film. All in all, I think Soul Kitchen is a good book for people who really liked the film and want to know more about the characters and their background.



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