Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots (Soffer)

Tomorrow There Will be Apricots
Jessica Soffer, 2013
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
317 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780547759265

This is a story about accepting the people we love—the people we have to love and the people we choose to love, the families we’re given and the families we make. It’s the story of two women adrift in New York, a widow and an almost-orphan, each searching for someone she’s lost. It’s the story of how, even in moments of grief and darkness, there are joys waiting nearby.

Lorca spends her life poring over cookbooks, making croissants and chocolat chaud, seeking out rare ingredients, all to earn the love of her distracted chef of a mother, who is now packing her off to boarding school. In one last effort to prove herself indispensable, Lorca resolves to track down the recipe for her mother’s ideal meal, an obscure Middle Eastern dish called masgouf.

Victoria, grappling with her husband’s death, has been dreaming of the daughter they gave up forty years ago. An Iraqi Jewish immigrant who used to run a restaurant, she starts teaching cooking lessons; Lorca signs up.

Together, they make cardamom pistachio cookies, baklava, kubba with squash. They also begin to suspect they are connected by more than their love of food. Soon, though, they must reckon with the past, the future, and the truth—whatever it might be. Bukra fil mish mish, the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Jessica Soffer earned her MFA at Hunter College, where she was a Hertog Fellow. Her work has appeared in Granta, Vogue and the New York Times, among other publications. Her father, a painter and sculptor, emigrated from Iraq to the US in the late 1940s. She teaches fiction at Connecticut College and lives in New York City. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
This first novel by Jessica Soffer is a work of beauty in words. There is no dead wood in this story; not a word is indispensable. Ms. Soffer is a master artist painting the hidden hues of the human soul. Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is an intelligent work in the vein of Azar Nafisi where the humanity of the characters transcends cultural or national differences and illustrates commonalities."
New York Journal of Books

Soffer's breathtaking prose interweaves delectable descriptions of food with a profoundly redemptive story about loss, self-discovery, and acceptance.
Oprah Magazine

Teenage Lorca, who has been cutting herself since she was six, still can’t win the attention she craves from her beautiful and inaccessible mother, and so she concocts an impossible scheme to save herself from being sent to boarding school: She’ll re-create the best dinner her mother ever ate, featuring an Iraqi dish called masgouf that here is as fraught with significance as Babette’s feast. Lorca is a diligent dreamer, enlisting the help of a bookstore clerk named Blot and cooking lessons from a grieving Iraqi widow. But in this novel of shifting point of views, you want to linger longest with Lorca; both her shortcomings and her desires are so identifiable you can’t help but root for her.

[A] poignant story of love, acceptance and memory in the unusual pairing of an Iraqi Jewish widow haunted by the daughter she had given away four decades before and a young teen-age girl who yearns to bring satisfaction to her mother by learning to make a dish she seemed to yearn for. The two meet improbably and feed off of each other’s hopes and desires, as well as a over a mouth-watering menu of Iraqi culinary specialties.  Beautifully written with a deep understanding of both woman and girl, the book is a first novel for Jessica Soffer, daughter of an Iraqi Jewish artist, whose imagination and versatility bode well for her future."
Moment Magazine

What makes a family? Where do we find our sustenance? Jessica Soffer examines the often debated questions with artful storytelling. She calls on all of our senses to consider the age old issue of nature vs. nurture. But food, laden with history and culture, the legendary path to the heart, is the medium. Mix in a very needy cast of characters and the recipe for a good tale is perfected.
Jewish Book World

Eighth-grader Lorca has been self-harming since she was six years old, lately to deal with pain she feels due to her distant mother [and]...absent father.... Lorca starts taking cooking lessons from Victoria, an Iraqi Jewish woman mourning the recent death of her husband.... Narrated in turn by Lorca and Victoria, with a few appearances from the late [husband], the novel shows their emotional bond developing as each faces uncomfortable truths. While the plot is thin and the prose dense, there are moments of charm and an ending that reveals the story to be more tightly wound than it appears.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) This powerful debut sheds light on the meaning and power of family, whether its members are blood-related or "created" by nonrelatives. Food is what strengthens relationships here.... However, it is not just the love of food but understanding and acceptance that help to make this such a lovely novel.... [A] charming book, which is as hopeful as its title. —Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
Library Journal

Told in Victoria and Lorca's alternating first-person voices, the character driven novel… offers fully realized, multidimensional characters who invite empathy and compassion.

A delectable tale of the families we choose...indeed, we root for all of Soffer’s rich and complex characters.

An unhappy teen and a shellshocked widow make a vital connection, though not the one they initially think, in Soffer's somber debut.... The plot twists are too obvious and the characters too predictable for the tentatively hopeful ending to be very persuasive. Well-written and atmospheric, but overdetermined and relentlessly grim.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. When the novel opens, Lorca has just been suspended from school for cutting herself. Why do you think she stole her mother’s paring knife? What is the significance of her doing so?
2. On page 3, Nancy says to Lorca, “I’m a good mother.” It isn’t the only time this sentiment appears in the novel. What is the subtext of this conversation? Discuss the impression you have of these two women as the novel opens and discuss how this impression changes or doesn’t throughout the novel.

3. Why does Lorca’s mother leave New Hampshire and her marriage to return to New York City? She says, “It’s what I have to do for myself…for women everywhere.” (Page 11) Identify elements of the themes of women’s liberation and feminism in the novel.

4. Many characters in the novel suffer from repressed feelings and thoughts, especially Lorca, Nancy, Victoria, and Joseph. Discuss these characters. How do they repress their feelings, and what are the consequences of this?

5. What first gives rise to Lorca’s plan to make her mother masgouf? What does the dish come to represent to Lorca? What does it represent to Nancy, and to Victoria?

6. Compare and contrast the two primary “couples” of the novel: Victoria and Joseph; Nancy and Lorca. How are their relationships similar and how are they different? What parallels can you draw between their respective struggles and suffering? Victoria thinks many times that she has been difficult to love—do you think she’s right? What about Nancy, who seems to attract more love than she can, or wants, to deal with?

7. This novel explores some family dynamics that can be difficult to look at head-on. Discuss the various families, particularly with regard to how people show love and find happiness (or at least attempt to).

8. Lorca hurts herself repeatedly throughout the novel but sometimes tries to repress her urges. Why do you think she starts to resist, and why do you think she ultimately gives in each time? What do you think it means to Lorca to discover her mother may also have been a self-mutilator? Why is this revelation important for your understanding of these two characters?

9. On page 53, Aunt Lou tells Lorca of her mother, “Someone didn’t love her enough. How about cutting her a little slack?” Similarly, Victoria shares on page 72 that she had been nothing to her own family. Victoria gave up her daughter for adoption, while Nancy herself was adopted. Discuss the effect that generations of neglect and the perpetuation of withheld love has on the characters in this novel. Do you think the circumstances justify these characters’ behavior? Do you feel sympathy for them? Why or why not?

10. How does the author use details about Victoria’s and Joseph’s Jewish traditions to show their alienness? Do you think the story would have been significantly different if Victoria and Joseph had been an American couple? What does their history have to do with the events of the novel?

11. None of the relationships in this book are simple. A “third wheel” infringes upon several: Aunt Lou constantly inserts herself between Lorca and Nancy; Dottie constantly inserts herself between Victoria and Joseph; and in a way, Lorca’s self-esteem and self-mutilation get between her and Blot. How do these outside influences adversely or positively affect the primary relationships they orbit? Do you think any relationship truly exists independent of any other? Support your opinion using examples from the novel.

12. When Lorca first arrives at Victoria’s apartment for her cooking class, what does she do that captures Victoria’s heart? In what ways are the two women similar? How do they help heal each other, beginning at this first class?

13. When Victoria talks about giving up her daughter on page 157, she says, “Something, anything, was worlds better than all the nothing that had been.” What is shifting for Victoria in this moment? Who else in the novel might also have said this?

14. Though a minor character, Blot has a tremendous effect on Lorca and suffers from his own painful family history. What do you think he sees in Lorca that she can’t see about herself? Why do you think he takes on her quest for the owners of The Shohet and His Wife so readily?

15. Many characters in the novel keep secrets from one another. How does Joseph’s secret change the contours of his and Victoria’s relationship when she first discovers that he’s been keeping something from her? What about the secrets Lorca keeps from Blot?

16. Did you believe Victoria and Lorca were truly related? Why or why not? If you did, at what point did you begin to suspect the truth? What clues were there that Victoria may have been wrong about Joseph’s secret? When did you begin to suspect the truth about Dottie?

17. From both Joseph’s and Victoria’s perspectives, why does Joseph have his affair with Dottie? What brings him back to Victoria? What would you do in his situation? How do two people driven so far apart by circumstances and choices find a way back to one another? What do you think the author might say to this?

18. Aunt Lou both insinuates and flat-out tells Lorca that she will never earn her mother’s love with her behavior. She harangues her on pages 190 to 191, pointing out that “everything you do is about her…You don’t do anything because you’re afraid you’ll miss her.” Do you think Aunt Lou is right? Why or why not?

19. One could argue that Lorca’s self-mutilation is a way for her to transmute the pain of her mother’s rejection into pleasure, however brief; to feel herself real despite her mother’s disregard. What is it that finally prompts Lorca to get angry at Nancy? What allows her to start healing from a lifetime of pain?

20. A kind of desperate hunger weaves its way throughout the story. Identify and discuss the different characters and what each truly hungers for. Do you think anyone has his or her hunger satisfied by the end of the novel? Why or why not?

21. The novel’s title comes from the Arabic saying, “Bukra fil mish mish.” Tomorrow, apricots may bloom. What does the saying mean, and why do you think the author chose it?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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