Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism
(Review posted from 2018)
Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her – feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?
If Vietnamese pho’s healing powers, physical and psychic, make traditional chicken noodle soup seem like dishwater—and they do—then this spicy soup, in turn, dishwatered pho. It was an elixir. The sandwich was spicier still, thin-sliced vegetables slathered with a fluorescent red sauce, the burn buffered by thick slabs of bread artfully toasted.
I really enjoyed this book! Sourdough is full of quirky and endearing characters and situations that make you laugh and fill your mind with wonder. It also made me insanely hungry (2020 edit: reading that quote above already has me salivating!) and brought to life a craving for sourdough – although I’m sure the loaf that I dug into is nothing like the legendary Mazg one (unfortunately). What I liked about this book is that you can take it as lightly as you want to, but if you want to give it a bit more thought, there’s also some meat for you to chew on. It doesn’t go into very fine details, which I didn’t mind because in a book like this, you can easily over-describe situations, events and processes until you bore your reader to death. Robin Sloan definitely doesn’t do that!
I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice—and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.
Lois, the main character, is so full of life and energy. I could really relate to her thoughts in terms of wondering at being a part of something more; something significant and important. I think that’s what we all go through in our 20s, 30s (and well, some even longer), especially as we finish university and start looking for a job and try to find more meaning in our lives. To find that purpose and to chase after what makes us tick – what gives us life. Lois is so passionate and just dives into situations that come at her – which is the complete opposite of me and probably why I find people who can do that so admirable. That energy of hers was palpable and as I read the book, I happily soaked up her enthusiasm for everything that she was doing. It made me think about what I’m currently doing and whether I am just living in my own version of “General Dexterity”? It’s a big Maybe.
Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.
Of course, there’s also some magical realism sprinkled throughout the book, especially as you come towards the end when you’re kind of doused in it all at once. As someone who is very picky when it comes to magical realism, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it but I absolutely loved it! It’s another element of Robin Sloan’s writing that I loved because it’s not entirely out of place or unbelievable in stories where the characters and events are so full of quirkyness.
I read someone’s comment about his books that summarised them in a really simple but accurate way – just as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was about a secret society for book lovers, Sourdough is about a secret society for food lovers. And who doesn’t love food (and books and secret societies)?! After reading this, it’s pretty safe to say that I thoroughly enjoy the way Robin Sloan writes and he has got a fan in me! Can’t wait to read more from him 🙂
Have you read Sourdough or is it on your TBR?