Reviewed by Mollie Cox Bryan
Food and politics are scattered throughout today’s headlines, but food has always been a part of the political conversation, whether it’s blatant or not—and writers have often used food as metaphor for love, life, politics, and more. In Emile Zola’s “The Belly of Paris” the writer skillfully weaves food into the everyday aspect of nineteenth-century Paris life, while keeping an artistic eye on food. As Mark Kurlansky notes in the introduction, this book is probably the first ”foodie” novel—a trend in current fiction.
The novel opens as the main character, Florent Quenu, finds his way back into Paris to Les Halles. He is literally starving, having just escaped from prison on Devil’s Island, As he stands in the middle of one of the biggest food markets in the world at the time, smelling and seeing all the incredible mounds of fresh cabbages and carrots and so on. Immediately, the reader is treated to an incredible outsider’s view of the market—pages and pages of food description as Florent wanders and eventually finds his way to his brother and his wife.
At first, things appear to be looking up for Florent, as he settles into the quiet life living with his family who operates a charcutiere. The descriptions of bloody animal parts and meat preparation are enough to turn the stomach of any meat eater. Still, it’s a bloody and cruel business, even though this slice of life is not pleasant to ponder.