"Jufresa directly appeals to any reader who was once a 12-year-old girl obsessed with Agatha Christie (*cough* me), but also, and truly, this is a gorgeous book that meditates on loss and grief, healing and redemption, and also offers an enchanting look into life in contemporary Mexico."
“As translated by the great Sophie Hughes, Mexican author Laia Jufresa’s debut novel UMAMI is a kalaeidoscope. In four parts, five characters tell the story of the last four years within their hovel of Mexico City, the Belldrop Mews. The millennium arrives and leaves trauma in its wake: Pina’s mother leaves, six-year-old Luz drowns on a family vacation, and Dr. Vargas Vargas, famed cardiologist, dies from pancreatic cancer.
But UMAMI is not a dystopian treatise or hipster metafiction. It is not one of those books about a group of people who come together and decide that life is good because they laughed at the same joke at some picnic. The Belldrop Mews folkthough they see each other every day, though they share their separate griefare not a family. They are fragments of four separate families struggling through their own fog
Grief, though, is neither defined by culture nor constrained by time. Yes, Jufresa could have written Umami the 'normal' waya single perspective in chronological order with first person the whole way throughinstead of this backwards telescope, alternating voices and switching perspectives between first and close third. That version of Umami would be a dark, bitter thing, like molasses in the coffee grounds. Instead, Jufresa and Hughes offer a version that is complex without weight, a saffron purée. Dynamic and delicate, UMAMI draws our attention without pretense. ”
Annalia Luna, The Rumpus
"In UMAMI, Jufresa, an extremely talented young writer, deploys multiple narrators, giving each a chance to recount their personal histories, and the questions they’re still asking. Panoramic, affecting, and funny, these narratives entwine to weave a unique portrait of present-day Mexico. "
"The debut novel of Mexican-born Laia Jufresa is a darkly humorous tale about five neighbors living in the heart of Mexico City. Taking place during a hot rainy summer, Jufresa's evocative portrait of contemporary Mexico lends whimsy with poignancy. Guaranteed to challenge and move you. "
"Laia Jufresa possesses the wisdom of the oldest of souls and the endearing spontaneity of a child. Her writing is serious and playful in equal measure; her observations, at once brutal and full of empathy and tenderness. Reading her is like traveling through the minds of everyone we know, guided by a soft, reliable voice that tells us: stop, listen, observe.”
Valeria Luiselli, author of The Story of My Teeth
“Ms. Jufresa: Where the f*#! did you learn to tell a story so well?”
Álvaro Enrigue, award-winning author of Sudden Death
"A wonderfully surprising novel, powered by wit, exuberance and nostalgia."
Chloe Aridjis, author of Book of Clouds and Asunder
"The best Mexico City novels find a way to incarnate that city's crazy protean energies, every sentence lifted from its psychic sidewalks and rooftops, and with a dashing charisma all their own. Roberto Bolaño's Savage Detectives did this, and so does Laia Jufresa's extraordinary, utterly enchanting and brilliant, multi-everything UMAMI."
Francisco Goldman, award-winning author of Say Her Name
"This book is such a gentle and sensitive deep dive into the cycles of mourning and loss out of which families are made and unmade, terrifying and uncanny, without ever losing sight of the daily banalities of hearth and home and love. Cooked to perfection, ready to serve.”
Aaron Bady, Literary Hub
"Umami is that fifth taste often described as 'meaty' though not exclusive to meat: soy sauce is umami; so is Parmesan cheese. First described by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, “umami” translates simply, maddeningly, as “delicious.” In Laia Jufresa’s UMAMI, set in early 2000s Mexico City, an anthropologist of pre-Hispanic diets lets a block of flats, each named after one of the five tastes. (He, of course, takes Umami for himself.) A novel of the apartment block’s interconnected family dramas, told from five perspectives anthropologist Alf, art student Marina, preteens Ana and Pina, and five-year-old Luz Umami is true to its whimsical premise, the narrative a little sweet, a little salty, by turns bitter and sour. Very umami, and very funny at times despite the tragedies that mark each household. The setup could admittedly become tired over 250-plus pages, but Jufresa also works an innovative structure that leaves the reader questioning until the end. A satisfying read. "
The Globe and Mail
"A thoughtful, eccentric, and heart-wrenching interwoven story told from the perspective of neighbors living in a mews of five houses in Mexico City... Jufresa crafts a story with warmth and tenderness but also gives insight to the uncanny human talent of engaging in cruel and awkward behavior. Some of the stories told are playful and light, others are tragic. UMAMI is quirky, insightful, and ultimately tells the stories of humans coping with living next to one another in order to feel less isolated and alone.”
World Literature Today
“I couldn’t put this book down, and when it did end, it left me in tears. An extremely charming novel that seamlessly toggles between a couple of years in the lives of the people who inhabit a Mexico City tenement compound. Particularly wonderful are the amaranth scholar who sets out to reconstruct his beloved wife through writing after she dies of pancreatic cancer and Luz, the five-year-old girl who drowns shortly after her narration ends (as we learn from her sister Anaa lovely character, as wellin the book’s opening pages). Jufresa’s disarming, unabashed tone and interest in the intersection of languages and cultures reminded me of Chloe Aridjis’ wonderful Book of Clouds, while Sophie Hughes’ translation stands alongside the original as a dazzling feat in its own right. Hughes won the English PEN Award for this translation, and I can certainly see why, as the English abounds with inventive and delightful solutions to the challenges of the Spanish. A beautiful and surprising meditation on community, absent maternity and growth of all kinds.”
Jennifer Croft, Founding Editor of The Buenos Aires Review and judge for Three Percent's Best Translated Book Award
"A tale of five lives in one block in Mexico City’s inner city in a complex designed with human tastebuds in mind this sad and funny novel has already snagged awards, and was dubbed an 'international hot property' by Publishers Weekly when the English rights were sold.”