PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

The Scent of Cardamom Pistachio Cookies Radiates from the Pages of 'Tomorrow There Will be Apricots'

The novel’s plot is conventional and unsurprising, but Jessica Soffer’s intelligent and vibrant writing redeems.


Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 336 pages
Author: Jessica Soffer
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-04
Amazon

Everyone has fond memories of certain foods or connections to meals that return us to a different era. These foods become instruments of nostalgia and act as gateways to a past where we are no longer present. Novels can have the same impact, and in a manner akin to Proust’s Madeleine, Jessica Soffer's Tomorrow There Will be Apricots endeavors to couple food with a remembrance of things past.

The novel is centered on the seemingly divergent lives of Lorca, a self-harming teenage girl, and Victoria, a widowed Iraqi-Jewish cook. As the plot develops, it's clear that both Victoria and Lorca suffer from internalized-hatred that is conditioned by their families and cultural histories. Lorca is desperate for her mother’s attention and seeks to reenter her good graces after being expelled from school. Remembering a story her mother tells of a scrumptious dish called Masgouf, Lorca sets out to recreate the dish and her mother’s happy memories. In the process she responds to an advertisement for a cooking class taught by Victoria.

Still reeling from the death of her husband, Joseph, Victoria seeks to reemerge into the world and to reconnect, albeit begrudgingly, with other people. Lorca and Victoria meet, and through the course of the book learn to trust and love themselves and each other. They also learn to accept and reconcile their grim histories. Throughout, Soffer delves into larger topics such as death, connections with family, the importance of voluntary kinship, self-harm outweighing self-worth, guilt, and redemption.

At no point is the plot light or entertaining, but rather depressive throughout. The scenes of Lorca cutting herself are graphic and might cause a trigger-effect in some readers. Yet Soffer establishes herself as a talented and conscientious writer. She expertly paints characters’ connections that transcend their varying cultural conditions. In spite of that, the story itself is weak and the plot at times monotonous. Furthermore, the narrative becomes unnecessarily complicated as a means of avoiding predictability.

Food is a central metaphor. Each character uses food and cooking as methods to heal and define their identity. Victoria has a long history with food: she was a cook who used cooking to express her creativity and affective capabilities. Additionally, Soffer is careful to establish food as a major component of Victoria’s personality and cultural history. For example, Soffer adds tidbits of information about the Iraqi culture according to its foodways: “Yellow vegetables for happiness,’ I corrected her. The Iraqi Jews ate according to color. ‘White for purity. Green apples for hope and prosperity’” (76).

Food also becomes another literary device for Soffer, as she remarkably uses cooking and food as a means to develop characterization. A particularly stunning example is derived from the initial description of the meddlesome neighbor Dottie. As Soffer writes, “in cooking, one poaches in order to keep something delicate from coming apart. In life, it means stealing the delicate thing away. And Dottie was a poacher in the highest order” (202). Soffer fills the pages with breathtaking metaphors and luxuriant symbols, which become the major appeal of the book.

Soffer also excels at conveying the weight of hardships, depression, death, and the anxiety of isolation. Her writing lyrically communicates longstanding, heart wrenching pain that can rarely yield to moments of happiness or love. The scenes in which she describes Victoria listlessly walking around her apartment remembering her deceased husband or the comfort Lorca takes in cutting herself are sad yet unflinchingly poignant. It seems that both Victoria and Lorca find very little self-forgiveness. However, this becomes a major connective trope with the reader. It is the reader’s responsibility to grant Lorca and Victoria absolution. When they cannot forgive themselves for the wrongs they have done or the guilt they endured, it is easy for the reader to grant exculpation.

Yet moments of happiness or recovery are fleeting. Interestingly, it seems that Soffer is commenting on the readers’ own self-identity rather than the characters. Meaning that she is asking us not to actually forgive the characters, but to actually forgive ourselves for whatever may plague us. It’s almost as if Soffer is pushing us to consider: since we can forgive Lorca and Victoria, why can’t we forgive ourselves?

Despite Soffer’s vivacious writing style and the poignant and well-grounded metaphors, the plot is rather humdrum. Soffer attempts to include a few twist-and-turns in the end, but ultimately the reader knows the ending will unfold in one of two ways. The plot twists do not make the story more interesting, but actually render it conventional. The inclusion of several underdeveloped plot points result in convolution and could be excluded. For instance, about three-quarters of the way through, the reader and Victoria learn that Joseph and Dottie had an affair several years prior. This is rather unnecessary, as Joseph is dead and Dottie is barely a secondary character. At this point, the plot becomes too drawn-out.

More so, Soffer attempts to overly develop the secondary characters, such as hurriedly throwing in Blot’s tumultuous history with his family or the dynamics of Lorca’s relationship with her estranged father. It's clear that each of these characters influences the lives and motivations of Lorca and Victoria, but for the most part they serve to divert the attention of the reader away from the main characters. In its entirety, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots falls flat and despite Soffer’s attempt to force-feed it some capriciousness, the novel becomes a predictable and maudlin read.

There are few likable characters: Lorca’s mother is selfish, Dottie is pushy, Victoria and Lorca overly involved in their own melancholy. The only warm emotion connected between reader and character is a type of empathy that eventually becomes exhausting as each character toils in their own grim reality. The women portrayed throughout the book fluctuate between desperate and needy to marginally less desperate and needy. Even when Victoria and Lorca bond together and learn to find love through each other, they are highly dependent on men and seek not only validation from their male partners but also any type of motivation, inspiration, or self-worth. Throughout, it is Joseph who acts as Victoria’s guide and inspiration while Blot encourages Lorca to find some iota of self-worth and understanding.

Not so coincidentally, Blot is responsible for saving Lorca at the end of the book when she has lost control of her cutting. Similarly, her husband mediates Victoria’s successful restaurant and cooking career. Her self-confidence is only exalted when Joseph encourages or reminds her that “I told you all along that you’re a wonder.” (143) Novels about women who hate themselves and are only capable of self-worth when a man saves them from themselves are typical and boring, and it’s a shame to read this in Soffer’s writing. Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots misses an opportunity to create a substantial and complicated sisterhood between Lorca and Victoria that in fact also heals and nourishes, and does not depend exclusively on food or their male companions. Despite the author’s attempt to establish rich characters, the normativity recasts them as caricatures of woman rather than reflections.

The hype circulating around Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is misdirected: the novel’s plot is conventional and unsurprising, but Soffer’s intelligent and vibrant writing redeems the book. Thus, praise needs to be directed towards Soffer and her talent should be admired. The book is worth the time if you are taken with food related metaphors and poetical prose. Otherwise, the predictable ending and the seemingly endless somberness render this a lackluster read.

4

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.