Book Review: ‘Butter’ by Asako Yuzuki and Polly Barton

Taste the truth in a culinary thriller

Book Title: Butter
Author: Asako Yuzuki
Translator: Polly Barton
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Number of Pages: 464
ISBN: 978-0008710637
Date Published: Mar. 18, 2024
Price: INR 389

Butter by Asako Yuzuki

Book Review

Asako Yuzuki’s 2017 novel “Butter,” which was first published in Japan and has now been translated into English by Polly Barton, is a distinctive combination of a friendship story and a whodunit mystery, all encased in a sumptuous culinary motif. The narrative centers on journalist Rika Machida’s investigation into the life of gourmet Manako Kajii, who was found guilty of killing and defrauding men. A straightforward request for a beef stew recipe launches Machida’s plan to get Kajii to tell the truth, and it sets off a slow-burning drama that delves far deeper than the murders Kajii is said to have committed.

The novel’s plot revolves around Machida and Kajii’s correspondence in search of culinary tips. As the simple recipes morph into increasingly sophisticated and unusual meal instructions, a game of cat and mouse begins. The colorful, mouth-watering descriptions of food heighten the anticipation, creating a fascinating and stressful environment. Readers are left wondering who is influencing whom as Machida attempts to find the truth about Kajii’s purported misdeeds.

Yuzuki’s writing is full of sensory nuances, notably the way food is portrayed and how it affects the characters. Machida’s metamorphosis from a busy professional who ignores food to a passionate thing is eloquently depicted. Her culinary exploration mirrors her increased knowledge of Kajii and herself, as she produces and serves numerous foods. This investigation of food and its connections to identity and relationships enriches the work, elevating it above the status of a thriller.

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Based on the true story of the “Konkatsu Killer,” the novel explores topics of social sexism and the enforcement of cultural standards. The media frenzy around Kajii’s case exemplifies society’s concern with beauty and the double standards women confront. Kajii’s unashamed passion for food and her body becomes a prominent element of the story, forcing the reader to reconsider concepts like as guilt, pleasure, and self-acceptance.

To summarize, “Butter” is a thought-provoking and multi-layered work that provides a unique reading experience. While it may not fit cleanly into the traditional murder mystery genre, it captivates with its detailed descriptions of cuisine and astute comments on society. For individuals who want to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and food while also exploring issues of friendship, identity, and societal expectations, “Butter” is a delightful book that will stay with them long beyond the last page.

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