It is rare that I gasp out loud with shock when reading, but I did, in the closing pages of this absolutely stunning novel.
“Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook” is a beautifully crafted story that is absorbing, original, creative and has you captivated until the final pages.
The book starts out straightforwardly enough, as we meet Edith Graham, 20-something, a teacher with a degree in modern languages, and bored with life in post-war England. She applies for a job in Germany, helping re-establish schools in the shattered country, but with her unassuming profile & knowledge of German, she is recruited by the OSS, as a spy, to help track down Nazis trying to escape prosecution. Her cover remains the Control Commission, and she diligently does her job in the traumatised, desolate country.
Her way of communicating to London whatever information she garners, is via codes in recipes that she sends back to her handlers and also to her sister – for cooking and baking are very important to Edith. What could be more innocuous than women sharing recipes?
Every chapter begins with a recipe, many of them heartbreakingly sad, as they document the attempt by Germans to conjure up something tasty and nutritious from virtually nothing. Food is one of the leitmotivs running through this book – the search for food, memories of food, and the recipes chart Edith’s life in Germany.
The initial pace of the book is slow and leisurely, as we discover alongside Edith a desperately poor, demoralised country. Alongside Edith, we learn how people are trying to survive, and how they handle the traumas they have witnessed.
Almost without our knowing it, the mood of the book gets darker and more brutal – there were parts of both Elizabeth’s and Harry’s stories that I could hardly bear to read, so graphic was the detail. As Edith is drawn ever deeper into the realities of the difficulty of prosecuting Nazi war criminals, she even begins to wonder about the loyalties of the people with whom she works and lives.
The dramatic end of the book caught me by surprise – it is not at all what I expected.
Absolutely loved it.
Cannot recommend “Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook” too highly.