Synopses & Reviews
At the end of her life, Frances Osborne’s one-hundred-year-old great-grandmother Lilla was as elegant as ever–all fitted black lace and sparkling-white diamonds. To her great-grandchildren, Lilla was both an ally and a mysterious wonder. Her bedroom was filled with treasures from every exotic corner of the world. But she rarely mentioned the Japanese prison camps in which she spent much of World War II, or the elaborate cookbook she wrote to help her survive behind the barbed wire.
Beneath its polished surface, Lilla’s life had been anything but effortless. Born in 1882 to English parents in the beautiful North China port city of Chefoo, Lilla was an identical twin. Growing up, she knew both great privilege and deprivation, love and its absence. But the one constant was a deep appreciation for the power of food and place. From the noodles of Shanghai to the chutney of British India and the roasts of England, good food and sensuous surroundings, Lilla was raised to believe, could carry one a long way toward happiness. Her story is brimming with the stuff of good fiction: distant locales, an improvident marriage, an evil mother-in-law, a dramatic suicide, and two world wars.
Lilla’s remarkable cookbook, which she composed while on the brink of starvation, makes no mention of wartime rations, of rotten vegetables and donkey meat. In the world this magical food journal, now housed in the Imperial War Museum in London, everyone is warm and safe in their homes, and the pages are filled with cream puffs, butterscotch, and comforting soup. In its writing, Lilla was able to transform the darkest moments into scrumptious escape.
Lilla’s Feast is a rich evocation of a bygone world, the inspiring story of an ordinary woman who tackled the challenges life threw in her path with an extraordinary determination.
"Osborne is amazed by her great-grandmother Lilla, whose remarkable life took her from her birth in 1882 in Chefoo, China, to a 'not quite prudent' marriage in India, a WWII Japanese internment camp and the end of her life in an England that didn't want her. Regardless of her surroundings, Lilla created a cozy home for her family, excelling in culinary delights. Osborne, who was 13 when Lilla died at 100, wanted to learn more about the mysteries of her great-grandmother's life: 'There was an allusion to a 'real father,' who had shot himself.... [T]here was the unheard-of child whom, in a whispered confession, she said she had made herself miscarry.' Osborne's research is comprehensive: she draws on family letters, interviews with former colonialists and camp prisoners, historical references and even a recipe book Lilla wrote while interned, and she seamlessly entwines historical events into the narrative. But what stops this biography from being a Far East Out of Africa is the clunky writing. Osborne injects clichd drama into situations and frequently uses sentence fragments to jarring effect. Furthermore, her conjecture and awkward language weaken the memoir's authoritativeness. Lilla, though, is a captivating character; her story rises above the writing's mediocrity. Photos, line drawings. Agent, Claire Paterson. (Oct.) Forecast: Ballantine will target literary and cooking communities; it's possible they'll embrace this." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Osborne pens the biography of her great-grandmother Lilla, a courageous Englishwoman whose love of good food--and imaginative spirit--carried her through the horrors of a World War II internment camp in China.
About the Author
Frances Osborne is a former lawyer, stockbroker, and freelance journalist turned full-time writer. She lives in London with her husband, George Osborne, the youngest Member of Parliament, and her two young children.