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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang

In the dystopian food desert of the future, a desperate chef is enlisted to create elaborate dishes for the wealthiest elite on a lush mountaintop compound, and she loses more and more of herself and her morals with each passing day.

On Sunday, we slathered brioche with cultured butter, dolloped crème fraîche on daubes, and spooned a pudding of Aida's creation. The interior was so creamy it recalled the molten center of the earth. If the land of milk and honey produced no further milk, this meal proclaimed, then we would sup of the last like kings and queens.

In C. Pam Zhang's slim dystopian novel Land of Milk and Honey, an unnamed chef in a polluted, dying city flees to a mountaintop retreat--and finds that fresh food, clear air, and lush opportunities for pleasure abound for the most wealthy elite.

As the chef explores the sensual pleasures of food and reawakens her connection to her body, she considers the ethics of taking advantage of the opportunities provided by her proximity to privilege. She benefits from her precarious but well-fed position, but she is repeatedly asked to subsume her ethics in increasingly disturbing ways, and she struggles with her role in perpetuating elitism while envisioning rebuilding a more just world.

Zhang repeatedly demonstrates the hubris of the uber-wealthy upper classes in the environmentally devastated world of the near future. For the incredibly wealthy, controlling the future feels like controlling the past--those who dole out the food reserves also control access to taste-inspired memories, family recipes, former everyday treats, and legendary delicacies only imagined.

The faulted, privileged few are terrifying in their elaborate, exclusive plans, which exclude all but a fraction of humanity. Money talks--and money is the only thing that buys food in a smog-ruined world. The chef finds herself forced to ignore her training and knowledge of how to treat ingredients in order to preserve her own safety and adhere to the base wishes of her benefactor and controlling group.

But when the boss's daughter begins tinkering with precious resources, our main protagonist is swept up into a relationship she never anticipated--the cooking and romance and gross negligence all tied up in one giant, guilty wonder of a mess.

This was an interesting dystopia and premise, and the writing about food is rich and captivating, but it took me foreeeeever to read this one.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Zhang is also the author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold?


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