“In the stillness of autumn, I feel I can almost hear someone hum ‘Lokame tharavadu (the world is my home)….’
In her tiny flat in East London, as Mili waits for her baby to arrive, little things remind her of her life in India—-the scent of jasmine flowers, a heavy downpour, a late-night cup of coffee, an amla or gooseberry–and she is overcome with a deep desire to recreate the flavors of her childhood. Can a jar of amla pickle help her travel back to that safe haven she once called home?” (goodreads)
Amla Mater is a graphic novel about identity, migration, and the meaning of home through food culture. Through smells and flavors, the very act of making gooseberry pickle, we join Mili in remembering her childhood in Kerala with best friend Maya. We learn that the amla tree is a constant theme through Mili’s life: It’s at the heart of the games she plays, offers a place in the shade under which to read, provides the gooseberries for Maya’s grandmother to make her pickle.
There is such a heavy sense of nostalgia and the meaning of home that is evoked through smells and sounds. I’m sure all of us have something that brings back memories of home so vividly. For me it’s the smell of my dad’s spicy scrambled eggs, a Sunday family tradition, and sitting at the table for hours eating and chatting (to the confusion of white German friends and family who by this time had already finished whole biking tours and like saved the world 😀 ).
And surprisingly, the reduced black-and-white artwork works really well, as it does not distract from the sensory goodness evoked by Mili’s memories of amla. I also found the images created in this style with its light strokes utterly charming.
Amla Mater emphasizes the importance of food culture in the migration experience. Food and not just its consumption, but its preparation as well are heavily tied to identity and Menon takes us on Mili’s journey – not just geographically from India to London- but also her coming of age from being a young Indian girl to an immigrant in London. I think readers from South India will find a lot of cultural references and nods to enjoy. I probably missed many, but really enjoyed Mili’s story and now I’m hungry for amla pickle!
Disclaimer: I received a free e-galley of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.