In The Kitchen by Monica Ali
(Scribner, $26.99) ISBN 978-1416571681
Gabriel Lightfoot seems to be on the road to success. He escaped the mill town drudgery of his father to become a top chef at a posh London hotel, his beautiful girlfriend is just waiting for the marriage proposal, and he's finally got backers for his long-awaited eponymous restaurant. If only the Russian porter Yuri hadn't died in the restaurant's cellar.

Already tightly wound, Gabe begins to unravel after he agrees to take in another young new porter, Lena, as she hides from authorities. Fatigue dogs him as he is plagued by nightmare visions of Yuri's body and feelings of guilt become overwhelming as he examines his relationships. His mind begins to wander as he observes his multi-national crew and he is both drawn to and reviled of them.

To make matters worse Gabe learns that his father is dying from cancer. His trips back home to visit bring on waves of nostalgia and repulsion. When Gabe finally taps into the source of the human trafficking business that is happening within and around the hotel, his already fragile state gets shaken to its core.

Ali has a tremendous talent for describing and examining multi-cultural aspects of society and she takes on many facets of man's inhumanity to mankind in this story, sometimes to the point of distraction. But her saving grace is her ability to create strong characters with relevant issues and insecurities we can all appreciate. As with Brick Lane we don't have a perfect book with In the Kitchen, but we have inventive images, crisp language and thought-provoking ideas to accompany a complex and interesting story.

--Laura Johnson

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