Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: February 8, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Historical
Seattle and Los Angeles, same coast but vastly different places, especially in the 1960s. Imogene Fortier writes a column known to readers in the Pacific Northwest so is surprised to not only get a fan letter, but a gift from a young woman in L.A. It’s a small packet of saffron with a recipe for mussels. This innocuous beginning leads to an impactful friendship in Kim Fay’s novel Love & Saffron.
Joan is 27, single, and open to a range of experiences and foods and Imogene is 59, has been married for 40 years, and has never flown anywhere. Still, Joan appreciates Imogene’s stories of life on Camano Island off the Washington State coast so she sends that first letter. Soon, despite the disparities between them the two women are communicating regularly in letters that morph from the polite surface sharing of new acquaintances to the deeper, more intimate conversations between friends.
Setting Love & Saffron in the 1960s establishes the novel’s ambiance. There’s no email, FaceTime, text. There’s phone, but it’s expensive and often spotty. Written communication is the norm, with letters that take days or even a week to arrive, but are filled with the immediacy of books loved, a recipe to try, family history—the written reach of one person trying to bond with another. Fay gently forces the reader back into this old-fashioned rhythm without losing any of the attendant emotions as the women live through the tumultuous events of the times. Instead, the outside world melds with the minutiae of their lives amidst the ever-expanding nature of friendship.
It begins with a simple gift but Love & Saffron grows in the same way Joan and Immy’s friendship does. A tentative beginning with two strangers unfolds on the pages as their communications nurture each of their lives. The saffron becomes something Immy’s husband uses to cook with, even though he has never cooked for her before. As the letters accumulate, each stretching in new directions—learning about fresh garlic, a new TV show with a female cook named Julia—so do the women. Immy’s marriage is reinvigorated and she begins to look around her at other uses for her life. Joan uses Immy’s self-assurance to push herself into a new career and worry less about what other people think.
If I’ve gone on a bit too long it’s only because this book is an unexpected respite from most of my recent reading. Love & Saffron is a novel of feelings. It’s not challenging, dark, or thought-provoking. It’s gentle and nourishing. Every reader will take away something different from it. For me, it was happy memories of enchiladas, stir-fries, and curries because my mother was adventurous cook when I was growing up. From a more bittersweet perspective it’s a reminder of the vital importance of female friendships. Read Love & Saffron, luxuriate in its gentle pace, and if it strikes you the way it’s stayed with me, give a copy to a cherished friend.
Love & Saffron is a novel of letters, a format I love when done right. If it’s a style you enjoy, I recommend Frances and Bernard.
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*I received a free copy of this book from G. P. Putnam in exchange for an honest review.*