Bittersweet Journey
A Modestly Erotic Novel of Love, Longing, and Chocolate

ISBN:0670876941
Publisher:Viking Penguin
Pub. Date:Jan. 1998
Enid Futterman, a librettist and photographer, has put her various skills and (gustatory) interests together with an obvious love of travel to create a lovely, well-packaged and intriguing little book. I say 'little' because the slim volume is liberally sprinkled with lush photographs and pages holding little more than a phrase from the text. This is not heavy or long-term reading.
The above is not a complaint, though, more of an observation of Futterman's librettist habits influencing the story's presentation. The writing is delicate and poetical, sparse and yet highly descriptive. Depending on how it is read, the story can float by like a butterfly, pretty yet almost unnoticed, or it can generate the nonliteral, emotive sort of mental state that poetry often can. The intent is obviously the latter, but the onus is on the reader to make it happen.
The locations and highly varied sources and forms of chocolate are very well researched, which is a good thing in a book that specializes in describing that variety. After the story are a pair of appendices, one listing a half dozen recipes for confections mentioned in the novella, the other giving literally dozens of sources of chocolate (complete with addresses and phone numbers) all of which wander into the story. Experimenters should be warned that the recipes tend to be old-world in procedure and result, and unless you know what it is you're looking for as you go through the recipe you may not get a very palatable result. There are, for example, far easier fudge recipes to be had for far more reliable results. But a second attempt at a confection, incorporating the experience gained the first time around, should give the desired outcome.
The only real complaint I have with the story is that the characters, of which there are quite a few, are not developed enough for the reader to care much about any of them, and as a result, Charlotte, the main character and narrator, comes across as neurotic and melodramatic. Well, she's supposed to be neurotic, but the effect is more than that. The marvelous and bittersweet changes that happen to her and that she brings on herself seem as overblown as the continuous overstatements in Anaïs Nin's diaries. It's hard to feel much empathy for the deep sense of loss of someone the reader has known for only a couple of pages.
The secret to the delimma turns out to be that the story is written as a fable, with characterizations that are essentially archetypal. It's not a common style of writing, but it is a valid one. I personally would have enjoyed getting to know several of the rather intriguing characters more thoroughly.
All things considered, the failing, if it is one, is minor. The images (both photographic and textual) and the information contained within the story overcome any character flaws, as it were. As a whole, the book is delicious, a lovely and poetic tribute to the dark yearning that is chocolate. I do recommend it.
Incidentally, a recent issue of the L.A. Times' Food section (February 10, 1999) featured Jim Walsh, who grows a most amazing chocolate in Hawaii and who also appears in Bittersweet Journey. The article is called Island Chocolatier, for those of you who may wish to track it down. Highly recommended.

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