Excerpt from The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Saffron Kitchen

by Yasmin Crowther

The Saffron Kitchen
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2006, 272 pages
    Aug 2007, 272 pages

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1. London

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
—W. H. Auden

Strange not to know that you’re alive or even that you’re about to die. That’s what it must have been like for my unborn baby. I’d been kicked in the guts by my young cousin, as I hauled him back from trying to jump over the bridge’s railings into the cold green water rushing out to sea. My mother’s scream rang in my ears as she ran toward us and the world froze: the churn of the Thames at high tide, the rumble of going-home school traffic and the tremble of the bridge. In that moment, my baby started to die.

And then the world unfroze. The traffic rolled by as if nothing had happened, and my cousin, Saeed, and I clung together on the pavement. When my mother finally reached us, she hauled Saeed to his feet, shook him hard, and shouted in Farsi so that I half expected him to make another run for the hungry river. But it had claimed its life for the day. Saeed looked at his feet. My mother shook her open palms at him and the sky, and asked what she or his dead mother had done that he should treat his life so lightly. Only when she stopped for breath did she turn to see the spreading bloodstain on my pale blue skirt.

“Oh, Sara.” She knelt on the wet pavement. “Saeed, find her phone.” She pushed my rucksack toward him and out, onto the bridge, fell the rest of my life: my school books for marking, sixth-form essays on Othello and Desdemona, an apple, a bottle of folic acid tablets, cherry lip salve, my diary, a small photo album, and, beneath it all, my phone. One of them dialed 999 and I felt Saeed wrap his anorak around me, his thin brown arms goose-bumped in the cold and bruised from the bullying. I rested my head on my mother’s knee between the convulsions of my body and cried for the lost life I had never known; for Julian, my husband, somewhere oblivious of it all; and for myself.

“What am I doing here?” my mother had asked in tears earlier that summer as she tidied her immaculate kitchen, her head shaking as she again wiped down the surfaces, rearranged the fruit bowl, and refused to sit down.

Her younger sister, my aunt Mara, was dead and my mother had not seen her for over a year. When I thought of Mara, I mainly remembered her laugh, how it had bubbled and rippled from her. Everything about her had been generous. Even when she was in a wheelchair with cropped hair and swollen with drugs, she was beautiful. And they had not had the chance for a final good-bye. More or less five decades and two continents, stretching from Paris to Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Bucharest, Istanbul, Baku, Mosul, Kirk¯uk and Tabr¯ız, lay between my mother’s life in London and her sister’s death in Tehran.

It did not help that Mara’s husband had already remarried. My mother had cried and shouted down the phone at the betrayal, full of her own guilt. Mara’s two oldest children were already grown up, but the youngest, Saeed, was just twelve. He was tall but slight, with the dark skin of his father, a solemn, angular face, and large green eyes that rarely blinked beneath their thick lashes. He arrived on my parents’ doorstep early that autumn and moved into my old bedroom, squeezing his stuff into the gaps my mother made, between the old clothes, books, toys, and photos that I had left or stored there over the fifteen years since I had moved out.
The following weekend, I had driven over to my parents’ from my home in Hammersmith. It was a Sunday morning and I’d woken early, the window rattling in its casement with a dry wind that had blown up from the Sahara and Arabia before that, leaving sand on the window ledges and car bonnets, and bending the stiff old London trees in the night. I’d woken with Julian curled round me, his hand on my growing belly, and the warm air billowing through the window.

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Excerpted from The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther. Copyright © 2006 by Yasmin Crowther. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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