Book Review: Little Gale Gumbo by Erika Marks
When I first saw the synopsis for Little Gale Gumbo, it caught my interest on a couple of different levels. First of all, it’s a journey story, and those are always interesting. Second, it is about women from New Orleans, and anyone who knows me can tell you that I’ve adored that special city from afar for more years than I can remember. Also, I love stories about women- especially mothers and daughters. So… with my interest piqued on a couple of levels, I immersed myself in the rich recipe of Little Gale Gumbo.
In her debut novel, Erika Marks introduces us to the wonderful and complicated Bergeron women, their rich and sometimes troubling past and the haven they escaped to on an island off the coast of Maine.
In a series of seamless time shifts from past to present, Marks tells a story of love, traditions, strength, pain, survival, friendship and family- in all its forms.
The story is broken down in sections that appear to be a lesson in making gumbo, but are essentially one family’s recipe for living. The gumbo that Camille Bergeron has learned at her mother’s side, then in turn passes to her daughters, is a metaphor for many things – in this reader’s opinion. Building a strong foundation (the roux) takes patience and attention, whether that foundation is a family or a friendship. The trinity (peppers, onions and celery) symbolizes the faith needed to sustain you- in whatever form it may be. The tomatoes are the hearts blood of the family. The okra gives it strength and richness. The spices are the flavor; the art and music and good times. Lastly the meat (for Camille, it was shrimp- for me, it can be a varying combination of shrimp, chicken and sausage) are the people who fill up your life. Some are constant, others fleeting, but always a rich addition.
The journey that takes Camille and her daughters Dahlia and Josephine from the home of their birth in New Orleans to a place that must have seemed like another world is rich, realistic and poignant. As a reader, you will find yourself loving each of these women- for entirely different reasons.
Of course, it is not only the Bergeron women that are an important part of this story. The men on Little Gale that become an integral part of their lives are just as richly drawn- as is the one from their past that drove them to flee. The story of their lives, both in New Orleans and Little Gale is full of joy, love, sadness, intrigue and a even a mystery or two- such as the one that brings them all back together on Little Gale.
I highly recommend this debut novel. It is a stellar beginning for Erika Marks and we hope that it is just the first course in a long literary meal.
Little Gale Gumbo is available now, so we suggest you run out and get a copy along with the fixings for your favorite gumbo and get to reading. Just don’t try to read while you’re making the roux – that’s just a recipe for disaster! However once everything is in the pot simmering, put on your favorite blues and jazz : Louis, Ella, Dinah, Billie…( for me, it was all that and some Kermit Ruffin, Professor Longhair, Neville Brothers, Dr. John) and immerse yourself in the songs and smells that best accompany this wonderful tale.
Bon Appetite & Happy Reading!
Review by Brenda Seward