Title: Love & Saffron
Author: Kim Fay
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: February 8, 2022
Genre: Women’s Fiction
One Sentence Summary: When Joan sends a fan letter to a columnist, the older Imogen, the two start a friendship fueled by their shared love of food.
Love & Saffron is a beautiful, heartwarming novel of food, friendship, and romance. Told primarily through letters exchanged by two women, one just outside Seattle and the other in Los Angeles, the two quickly bond over their love of food. Set in the early 1960s, it really highlights the times, especially in terms of biracial relationships and the different ingredients only available in certain areas. I loved that there’s a great deal of depth and richness to this novel despite its short length and the fact that it’s told almost entirely through letters. Both women’s personalities come through so clearly and their daily lives are so detailed that I felt fully immersed in their stories and wanted more. Overall, Love & Saffron is a beautiful, quiet novel that has so much to say under the surface, but the friendship between the two women will always be a great highlight for me.
It’s the early 1960s and twenty-seven-year-old Los Angeles native Joan Bergstrom decides to write a fan letter, accompanied by some saffron, to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier on Camano Island in Washington, where she writes a monthly column for a magazine. The two strike up a quick friendship that spans the first half of the 60s, one that will both broaden their horizons and impact their personal romantic lives.
Love & Saffron is a delightful and delicious quick read. It’s sweet, but peppered liberally with so many wonderful things, particularly things considered taboo back then. It’s a fascinating look into the past and I was particularly intrigued by the ingredients that were not freely available back then. All the things I take for granted in grocery stores now, they ended up forming the basis of a delicious friendship that made it possible for this story to really become something amazing. This is basically a bite-size novel, but definitely packs a punch with everything it managed to cram in without becoming too much.
Told mostly through letters exchanged by Joan and Imogen, there’s so much life and character in them. Despite how short this book is, I loved that I came away from it feeling I knew both of them and really got to know their hearts. There’s such an easy, open friendship between them, and I loved how much they cared about each other through all the ups and downs and uncertainties, how they were always there for each other despite the miles separating them. I adored the openness between them, adored how much they came to care for each other despite the fact that, due to the length of time it took letters to be sent back and forth, weeks and months could go by between letters.
There are so many differences between the women that it seemed unlikely they would form such a strong bond, but it worked in so many ways. Joan felt much more reserved and, being younger, self-conscious, her writing seeming a bit more formal and thought out than Imogen’s. I felt restraint in her when reading the letters she wrote. Imogen, on the other hand, felt effusive and bright and sunny. I felt so much joy and friendliness in her letters, which bore the signs of her age and wisdom while also being scattered and, really, a ton of fun to read. But she really proved to be the open loving soul Joan needed later on in the novel, and I can’t help but feel she made all the difference in Joan’s life.
My favorite part of Love & Saffron, though, as much as I loved the women, was all the food. Their lives revolved around food. Their letters revolved around food. If they weren’t swapping recipes, they were talking about ingredients and the different foods available to them. Both of their romances involved food. The things they wrote about in their respective columns were about food. At the same time, I never really felt hungry while reading this. It could be because this is a short novel and I finished it before I could feel hungry, or perhaps I also became caught up in their lives because this book was so much more than just food.
Love & Saffron touches on some historical moments, like the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination, but much more of it was devoted to more personal things. Imogen’s husband Francis deals with the trauma from having fought in WWII, which impacts their marriage, but Imogen’s friendship with Joan seems to trigger something. Their rekindled romance is a beautiful thing, making the ending that much more bittersweet. Joan lives in LA where there’s a huge Hispanic population, so she strikes up a quick and close friendship with one Mr. Rodriguez who introduces her, and Imogen by extension, to the delicious world of Mexican food. I must say Joan is a better Angeleno than I am, taking the time to learn Spanish and really explore the history of LA and Mexican food. It has such a positive impact on her life and she really champions making Mexican food better known. It also has a profound impact on her relationship with Mr. Rodriguez, one that really showed how beautiful Joan and Imogen’s friendship is as well as the racism of the times.
I’m not usually one for any kind of historical fiction, but I got caught on the word “food” in the description, so I was delighted to learn I loved the historical context of Love & Saffron. It really was perfect for the story and I learned so much from it, both in terms of the food and the city (and county) I’ve called home for most of my life. The story and time frame worked hand in hand and really added a ton of richness and depth to a story told mostly through letters. I loved everything about it, and it really helped make everything in the story work. I can’t possible see how this story could be this story and keep it’s heart if it was put into a more modern time.
Love & Saffron, for as short as it was, has so much to offer, so much depth and richness. I was a little worried the story wouldn’t be more than a surface one when I saw it was almost entirely in epistolary form, so I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to see just how much was in it. There’s a lot, but it was woven in really well and, like a delicious dish, perfectly balanced and seasoned. It ended a bit too abruptly for my tastes, but, when I think about it, it really was perfect and absolutely beautiful. I loved everything about this book and am delighted to have had the opportunity to read such a wonderful, heartwarming novel.
How many cups of tea will you need?
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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