by staff writer
"HATCHED" by Robert Barsky reads as if Mordecai Richler dined with Saul Bellow in NYC, and Allen Ginsberg invited them to his table for some dessert!
MONTREAL, CANADA -- Jews and food, Jews and social movements, Jews and humor: they all go together like egg whites and egg yolks.
Trading in his academic cap to wear the novelist's hat, Barsky has written a novel titled "Hatched" which is being published soon and is at the printing press now as I write.
Meet Robert Barsky, who grew up in a Jewish family in Canada and teaches now in the English department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Also holding university appointments in Jewish studies, European studies and American studies, Barsky was born and raised in Montréal, attended Brandeis University in the Boston area, and later did graduate work at McGill University in Canada.
In a recent interview with this blog, the professor told me some of the backstory of his debut novel and how he came to write it.
"A well-respected chef in New York City has decided to fulfill a lifelong dream, which is to open a restaurant that is devoted entirely to 'eggy creations' in the Wall Street area of Manhattan," he said by email. "Working with an architect, John erects a restaurant in the shape of a Fabergé egg that is inspired by those remarkable masterpieces that were offered each year by the Russian Czar to his beloved wife,leading up to the Russian Revolution."
As his fictional story goes, the Fabergé Restaurant becomes ''the' destination for the wealthiest of New York clients, but it's also the place where three former college roommates hatch a plan to counterfeit billions of dollars, ''and shake the American economy to its very yolk," as Barksky put it. You can see he has a punning sense of humor.
"It's my first novel, and it's filled with some great plot twists and voluptuous egg recipes," he said, adding: "The book is a sumptuous treat."
Barsky knows a thing or two about how restaurants operate from his own training as a chef, and "Hatched" combines his personal knowledge of kitchen shenanigans, along with an academic understanding of revolutionary ambitions, honed through decades of research into American communists, anarchists and socialists.
"My novel is primarily an adventure that takes place inside of a masterpiece, the Fabergé Egg, until, when the plan is finally 'hatched,' the repercussions are taken into marginalized communities that benefit from the newly-printed money, and, finally, into the offices of the U.S. Treasury," he said. "I have researched all elements of the story, but also let the story tell itself, with a cast of very memorable characters who are fun to be around."
Barsky told me that the novel was seven years in the making and ''fertilized'' by visits to some posh restaurants he dined in throughout North America and Europe. Add in his research into recent financial crises and visits to some museums housing the fabulous creations of Fabergé, and here's a novel with punch.
As an academic, Barsky has published seven non-fiction books, including a trilogy of works about Noam Chomsky's cultural, political and Zionist milieus. And yes, he trained as a chef in his undergraduate college years.
"As nn avid collector of memorabilia relating to the Fabergé collection, I'm a resolute lover of eggy cuisine," he told this reporter.
As readers of modern literary fiction know, there is a growing genre of hybrid works that feature novelistic intrigue and feasting. They range from novels containing intimate scenes devoted to the passion of eating yummy food, to mysteries set in restaurants, in which the recipe can be part of the intrigue, according to Barsky.
So if you liked Joanne Fluke's ''Cream Puff Murder'' or Diane Mott Davidson's ''Bread Alone'' -- and popular movies such as ''Like Water for Chocolat'' or ''My Dinner with Andre,'' Barsky's debut foodie financial thriller just might be your ... cup of tea.
When I asked Barsky what, if any, elements of his Jewish background played into the creation of his novel, he replied: "I’m not sure that I can identify any specific influence of that heritage, and I was probably more influenced by the fact that I grew up lower-middle class in a freezing cold place, Québec, in which we quite literally had to survive through the winter."
"But in retrospect, perhaps the idea of being inside and outside, as one feels in a Jewish setting, may have had something to do with it," he added. "Or, more cynically, it was probably more a result of the fact that my parents were disowned on both sides because my father married a non-Jewish woman. My parents had to go to my father's cousin's place in New York City in order to get married. That was an amazing family: the mother was a sculptor and the father, Jack Brussel, was a well-known Jewish publisher who went to jail for publishing Henry Miller's controversial ''Tropic of Cancer.'' Yes, that probably had something to do with how I came to write this novel."