Reading guide for In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

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In the Kitchen

A Novel

By Monica Ali

In the Kitchen
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jun 2009,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: May 2010,
    448 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Introduction

Amid the fading glory of the Imperial Hotel, embattled Executive Chef Gabriel Lightfoot tries to maintain his culinary integrity in the hotel's restaurant, while managing an unruly but talented group of immigrant cooks. He must please the management of the hotel, recently purchased by an international conglomerate.

When the dead body of a Ukrainian porter is discovered in the restaurant cellar, the tenuous balance in Gabe's life begins to slip. Adding to his stress, Gabe's plan to open his own restaurant with two wealthy investors is hitting a critical stage, his father is diagnosed with cancer, and his girlfriend starts talking about a new level in their relationship. Meanwhile, Gabe convinces himself that Gleeson, the restaurant's shifty floor manager, is using hotel property to conduct some sort of nefarious business.

With all this on his mind, Gabe encounters a young immigrant named Lena, a girl mysteriously tied to the death of the porter, and he makes a decision, the consequences of which irrevocably change the course of the life he knows—and the future he thought he wanted.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Consider the title of this novel. Is the kitchen the most significant setting in this novel? Why do you think the author chose “In the Kitchen”? With the group, brainstorm other title possibilities.
  2. Gabe believes that his girlfriend Charlie is his perfect mate and envisions a happy, married life with her. What, then, accounts for his relationship with Lena? What attracts Gabe to Lena? Does he ever truly love her? On some subconscious level, do you think his actions were an attempt to sabotage his future with Charlie?
  3. Gabe is haunted by a reoccurring nightmare of discovering Yuri's body in the catacombs and he is plagued by his inability to interpret the meaning. Is he ever able to decipher these visions? How would you explain the various settings and symbols that haunt him?
  4. Gabe and Nikolai debate the existence of free will. Gabe argues that “How we behave is up to us,” but Nikolai believes that everything is predetermined by one's particular circumstances (galley page 293). With whom do you agree?
  5. Gabe can't seem to remember or define what changed his relationship with his father when he was a boy. By the end of the book, does Gabe know? Does their relationship transform over the course of the novel? In what way?
  6. Discuss Gabe's relationship with his sister Jenny. In what ways does she act a foil to his character? What qualities do the two characters share?
  7. What does Fairweather reveal to Gabe about the state of the economy, politics, and social class and race in England? How do their views differ? How have Gabe's experiences in various kitchens, working with people representing a vast array of different cultural backgrounds, shaped his opinions and values?
  8. Both Jenny and Charlie tell Gabe that he is selfish. Do you agree? Why is it so important to Gabe to discover how other people view him? What motivates Gabe to give Lena his money?
  9. What are the major turning points in Gabe's ultimate downfall? Why was Yuri's death the catalyst for Gabe's personal unraveling? Considering his mother's bipolar disorder, do you think his breakdown is at all symptomatic of a neurological issue? Is Gabe's collapse a result of his upbringing, his personality, or events beyond his control?
  10. By the novel's conclusion, do you think that Gabe has recovered from his anxieties and self-destructive tendencies? What impact did his father's death make? What role did Jenny play in Gabe's recovery? If the story were to continue, what do you think would happen between Gabe and Charlie?
     

Enhance Your Book Club

Gabe wants his own restaurant to feature classic yet simple French fare. Choose one or a few of the recipes that he mentions and prepare the food for your meeting. For help with the recipes, visit: http://www.letscookfrench.com/selections/sel_classique.cfm

If you were to open your own restaurant, what type of cuisine would you serve? Share your fantasy plans – including the menu, the name of the restaurant, the location, the décor, and the type of clientele you would hope to have – with the group.

Read Monica Ali's previous works, Brick Lane and Alentejo Blue. How are they different from In the Kitchen? In what ways are they similar?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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