Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries

Overview

Sunya Malhotra, a young American woman whose parents had migrated from India, is the head baker and owner of Pastries, a warm and cozy bakery in Seattle. Sunya loves baking and has transformed her fabulous cakes and tarts into delicious works of art. The success of her beloved bakery is put in jeopardy, however, when a chain bakery threatens to open up down the street from her. To add to her misery, Roger, her hip, Japanese boyfriend has left her for a "perfect" Japanese girlfriend and her mother has just become ...

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Overview

Sunya Malhotra, a young American woman whose parents had migrated from India, is the head baker and owner of Pastries, a warm and cozy bakery in Seattle. Sunya loves baking and has transformed her fabulous cakes and tarts into delicious works of art. The success of her beloved bakery is put in jeopardy, however, when a chain bakery threatens to open up down the street from her. To add to her misery, Roger, her hip, Japanese boyfriend has left her for a "perfect" Japanese girlfriend and her mother has just become engaged to a man Sunya detests. Sunya hasn't yet reconciled to the mystery of a father missing since her birth. Even a new relationship with a hot, young film director who is in town to cover the 1999 World Trade Conference, can't help Sunya with her biggest worry - she has lost her touch for baking.

Overwhelmed, Sunya is surprised to find herself listening when her new Japanese baker offers her a solution to her problems - enroll in a baking school in Japan! Of course, this isn't just any baking school. It is run by a famous Japanese baker, Mori Matsumoto, and is based on the principle of mindfulness. Soon Sunya finds herself learning the basic skills of baking all over again. Is this what she needs to rediscover herself? Will she recapture her zest for work and life?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Kirchner deftly weaves an intricate tangle and then gradually unties the knots toward the end, much like a Bollywood blockbuster."
- The San Francisco Chronicle

"The best of Pastries is the frantic life behind the serene scenes in the cafe and the menu. Brown-butter nectarine layer cake. Mango cheesecake. Creme brulee drizzled with persimmon coulis - Ok, you're drooling."
- The Detroit Free Press

"There's a sweetness to the bakery's singular desserts; while in the end, Kirchner's characters receive their just desserts."
- Seattle Weekly

"Seattle, a town where food is taken very seriously, is the perfect backdrop for a pastry war."
- LA Times

The San Francisco Chronicle

"Kirchner deftly weaves an intricate tangle and then gradually unties the knots toward the end, much like a Bollywood blockbuster."
The Detroit Free Press

"The best of Pastries is the frantic life behind the serene scenes in the cafe and the menu."
Seattle Weekly

"There's a sweetness to the bakery's singular desserts; while in the end, Kirchner's characters receive their just desserts."
LA Times

"Seattle, a town where food is taken very seriously, is the perfect backdrop for a pastry war."
The Los Angeles Times
Seattle, a town where food is taken very seriously, is the perfect backdrop for a pastry war. — Susan Salter Reynolds
Publishers Weekly
Cookbook author turned fiction writer Kirchner (Darjeeling) gives us a glimpse into the tumultuous life of a contemporary Seattle bakery owner in this sweet but uneven novel about family, friendship, romance and self-renewal. Sunya Malhotra, 29, is the owner of Pastries, a quaint bakery cafe in Seattle's Wallingford district. Barely recovered from a painful breakup with her activist ex-boyfriend, Sunya feels the world is conspiring against her as a huge bakery chain makes plans to move down the street, her mother's obnoxious fianc begins meddling in her affairs and the daily personal dramas of her bakery staff escalate until they threaten her business. For Sunya, the most disconcerting aspect of the tumultuous state of her life is that she has lost her passion and instinctive talent for baking. Intricate descriptions of baking techniques ("I turn the dough out onto a nonstick kneading mat") and involved discussions of baked goods ("The amaretto-laced sour cream lavished on top is not entirely necessary... but it prepares the mouth") add a whimsical element to Kirchner's storytelling, but at times their inclusion seems contrived. As the novel progresses, Sunya searches desperately for a way to regain her baking passion, unsure whether she can achieve this through a nascent romance with an ambitious young movie director or by accepting an invitation to attend a baking course at Apsara Bakery in Kyoto, Japan. Sunya heads to Japan hoping to regain what she's lost and also to learn more about the Sunya Buddhist tradition, for which she was named by her long-lost father. The ride from kitchen to kitchen is bumpy, but those who choose cookbooks as bedtime reading will savor Kirchner's baking lore. Agent, Liza Dawson. Pacific Northwest author tour. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sunya Malhotra lives to bake. This instantly likable woman owns and operates her own bakery in a trendy neighborhood in Seattle. Though her parents are from India, she was trained in Paris, and her signature creation, the Sunya cake, borrows from both traditions yet is uniquely hers. Sunya bakes with her senses, enjoying the feel of the dough and the scent as it bakes, and her story is infused with these sensuous images. When Sunya is distracted by the breakup of her relationship with Japanese boyfriend Roger and the impending opening of another bakery nearby, she loses her ability to create the Sunya cake, and her business is in danger. As Kirchner (Darjeeling) says, baking is like the rest of life: "The quality of the end result will be proportional to the completeness of your involvement." Kirchner's fourth novel features luxurious prose and tasty details that make for an engrossing story. Recommended for most popular fiction collections.-Julie James, Forsyth Cty. P.L., Winston-Salem, NC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist (Darjeeling, 2002, etc.) and cookbook author Kirchner whisks up a tale of escalating crises-in love, work, family, and career-all serendipitously resolved by spiritual baking lessons. In a story with as many plotlines as a millefeuille has pastry leaves, narrator Sunya Malhotra begins her tale of woe as her life and work seem about to implode. She lives in Seattle, as does her East Indian mother, who was abandoned by her Indian academic husband when Sunya was two days old. Her father left because he sought a more spiritual life and hasn't been seen since. Nearly 30, Sunya (her name has a special meaning for Buddhists) is a woman "who loved to bake." She owns Pastries, a neighborhood bakery and coffeeshop, but seems to have lost her joy in baking when she also lost her Japanese boyfriend Roger, who has a new girlfriend and a new job organizing protests for the up-and-coming World Trade talks. Her woes increase when she learns that a big bakery chain is moving into the neighborhood; her best baker, Pierre, takes off; a man loiters outside her shop; and she finds cards with Japanese writing on them left at her door. Her receipts are also falling, and she may have to sell her store. A meeting and then date with Andrew, a filmmaker in town to make a documentary of the protests, suggests new happiness, but Andrew has major problems, too. The story is padded further with tales of her early life told by Sunya's mother, but they're not much comfort. Sunya is saved only when, after learning that the mysterious cards are from the director of a Japanese school that teaches baking as a way to heal the spirit, she heads to Japan. There, she not only rediscovers the joy of baking, but also partof her past. Sugary fare for the seriously sweet-toothed. Agent: Liza Dawson
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312289881
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in India, Bharti Kirchner worked as a systems software engineer for many years before becoming a prize-winning cookbook author. She is also the author of three acclaimed novels, including Darjeeling. Kirchner lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband.

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book:

A talented pastry chef rediscovers her love for life in this delicious novel from the acclaimed author of Darjeeling

Sunya Malhotra, a young American woman is the head baker and owner of Pastries, a warm and cozy bakery in Seattle. Sunya loves baking and has transformed her fabulous cakes and tarts into delicious works of art. The success of her beloved bakery is put in jeopardy, however, when a chain bakery threatens to open up down the street from her. To add to her misery, Roger, her hip, Japanese boyfriend has left her for a "perfect" Japanese girlfriend and her mother has just become engaged to a man Sunya detests. Sunya hasn't yet reconciled to the mystery of a father missing since her birth. Even a new relationship with a hot, young film director who is in town to cover the World Trade Conference, can't help Sunya with her biggest worry - she has lost her touch for baking.

Overwhelmed, Sunya is surprised to find herself listening when her new Japanese baker offers her a solution to her problems - enroll in a baking school in Japan! Of course, this isn't just any baking school. It is run by a famous Japanese baker, Mori Matsumoto, and is based on the principle of mindfulness. Soon Sunya finds herself learning the basic skills of baking all over again. Is this what she needs to rediscover herself? Will she recapture her zest for work and life?

Discussion Questions:

Lately there has been an explosion of literature by Indian authors. Is Pastries a departure from these works?

Talk about the structure of the novel, the many plot lines, the story-within-a-story methods used to bring a full cast of characters from the bakery onto the stage.

Discuss the sensuous writing - colors, smell, shapes, and tastes. Comment on the significance of food, the symbols it represents.

How would you describe the relationship between Sunya and her mother? How does Sunya's mother contribute to the story?

Discuss the betrayals that turn the lives of the characters, such as Sunya's father leaving his family and Kimiko stealing Roger from Sunya.

The story takes place during the historic 1999 World Trade Conference in Seattle. Comment on the globalization issues as we face today, those that this novel brings out, as well as your own.

Talk about the lessons in mindfulness Sunya learns in Japan? Do you see yourself needing this type of teaching and applying the principles in your life?

Seattle and Japan form the backdrops for the story. How well does the author evoke these settings?

How does Sunya evolve over the span of the story? Will she be able to make a life for herself despite her losses?

About the Author:

Bharti Kirchner is the author of eight books, four of which are critically acclaimed novels. Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries, Darjeeling, Sharmila's Book, and Shiva Dancing. Her books have been translated into several foreign languages. Winner of two Seattle Arts Commission literature grants, Bharti has also written articles, essays, and book reviews for publications such as Food & Wine, The Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Cooking Light, Writer's Digest, and Northwest Travel and for various anthologies. An award-winning cook, she is the author of four popular cookbooks, including the best-selling The Bold Vegetarian.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2006

    Great story and characters

    A beautifully told story. The settings and characters are very real and yet romantic. Sunya's jounrney of self-discovery is shown through her experiences with various people in her bakery and life. The author does not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary explanations and side tracks on eastern philosophy. She interleaves that into Sunya's story in a gentle and creative manner. Baking will never be the same. :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2003

    When life is not as simple as it seems

    Pastries is a wonderful novel for anyone who has seriously wondered about the meaning of life. Not in the abstract, philosophical sense, but about how our destinies intertwine with day-to-day reality. This is a powerful book, with a yummy overlay. Yes, this is a book about pastries, but it is so much more complex than that: Sunya's relationships with her mother, her father, her lovers, her co-workers, even her city and country are all beautifully detailed here, amid vivid descriptions of delectable cakes. Sunya's relationship with her mother, Dee, is especially well-drawn. In fact, Dee is now one of my all-time favorite fictional working mothers: she has one of the most creative responses to a deadbeat husband I have ever seen. This is not a book to be read quickly -- the writing is too finely detailed for skimming -- but for savoring slowly. Like really fine chocolate, it should not be gulped down. Read this one on vacation, in the bathtub, or in stolen spare seconds when you can be alone to enjoy it properly.

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