I’ve argued for years that if children’s books can have illustrations, why shouldn’t novels for adults? When Jonathan Safran Foer published Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I felt vindicated. It has drawings, typographical experiments, photographs, a flip-book …and it’s magnificent.
Safran Foer has just outdone himself. I’ve spent the evening reading his latest work Tree of Codes. It’s a startling and physically beautiful book, a reworking of Bruno Schulz’ 20th Century story The Street of Crocodiles. Even the new title is a variation on the original — slice ten letters from The Street of Crocodiles and Tree of Codes is the result.
The die-cut book is a work of delicacy and ingenuity. Turn a page too briskly and it will tear. Words glimmer through the gaps so that each reading of the novel produces a new story.
It’s a novel that expects effort, but the reward is that it becomes one’s own. As I explored Tree of Codes this evening, I ate a bowl of DIY miso soup, something I’ve been eating most days since January 1st. DIY soup demands that the eater works at it, creates it at the table. And just like Tree of Codes, it’s different every time.
DIY MISO SOUP
20g dried shitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons miso paste
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoon fish sauce
1 litre water
2 cm chunk of fresh ginger
2 cm length of lemongrass
2 nests of fine egg noodles
Half fresh red chilli
Handful coriander leaves
2 spring onions or scallions
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
200g raw King prawns
Pour a little boiling water over the mushrooms and put to one side. Peel the ginger and grate it into a saucepan large enough to hold 1 litre of water. Chop the lemongrass roughly and add to the pan, along with the miso paste, and the soy and fish sauces. Bring to a gentle simmer, take off the heat and allow the flavours to develop.
Finely chop the chillis and spring onions and put into two serving bowls. Put the washed coriander leaves in a third bowl. Rinse the softened mushrooms and add to a fourth bowl. Line these up on the table with a serving spoon in each. Place the uncooked noodle nests into two soup bowls, bring the soup back up to a simmer. Strain it and divide equally between the two bowls, pouring it over the noodles to soften them while you cook the prawns. Saute the prawns in a little olive oil with the finely chopped garlic. When the prawns are pink, tip them into a fifth serving bowl and take to the table. By this time the soup liquor will have cooked the noodles. Just add generous helpings of all or some of the extra ingredients to your soup and start to eat.
I made DIY soup for twelve people yesterday and the choosing and the eating made a simple meal into an event. It would have been even better if all twelve of us had had our own copy of Tree of Codes to read aloud from as we ate.