📖Atonement: 🍸two figures by a fountain

📖: Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)
🍸: two figures by a fountain

Why this book?

I savored every word in this novel. The language is just as lush as the verdant grounds that surround the Tallis’ family estate. I thought the movie adaptation remained faithful to the tone and structure of the novel – translating McEwan’s richly textured narrative about love, war, class, and guilt into a film with an equally stunning soundtrack and cinematography. Both the film and novel are gorgeous pieces that can stand on their own, so I don’t think it matters if you see the movie first, then read the book, like I did. I still loved every bit of my reading experience.

The novel opens during the height of summer, in pre-WWII England, where 13-year-old Briony witnesses a surprising interaction between her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the son of their family’s cleaning lady – first at the fountain in front of their house, and then again in their library. Based on what she chooses to understand, Briony later makes an accusation that changes all their lives forever.

This story is so compelling in the way that it explores both the limitless and limiting power that writers have in constructing truth. Who benefits most from the act of revision? Is it the writer, her audience, or the characters in her story? For those of us who seek redemption and liberation, where do we find it – in fact or in fiction?

For all the Little Women (Gerwig adaptation) fans out there – you might like this one, with Saoirse Ronan in the role of Briony!

Why this drink?

For this pairing, I made a gimlet – a British cocktail for a British novel. I added a tiny bit of matcha to make the drink more green, like the Tallis’ English gardens and the emerald gown that Keira Knightley wears in the movie’s dinner scene.

two figures by a fountain

1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz lime
0.5 oz simple syrup
tiny dash of matcha powder

lime wheel or mint leaf

  1. Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  3. Garnish with lime and/or a mint leaf.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Vanishing Half: 🍸twin sister

📖: Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half (2020)
🍸: twin sister

Why this book?

This novel begins as a story of two biracial twin sisters, Stella and Desiree, who leave their small black community in Louisiana for New Orleans. One day, Stella suddenly vanishes to live a secret life passing as a white woman. While Stella and Desiree’s lives increasingly diverge over time, they are inextricably bound together by unanswered questions, grief, longing, and ultimately, their daughters.

“Why wouldn’t you be white if you could be?” Stella thinks as she reflects back on her life. “Remaining what you were or becoming something new, it was all a choice, any way you looked at it. [Stella] had just made the rational decision.”

Beyond the sisters’ plot line, this is a broader, multigenerational story of transformation. Other characters also dramatically change — some by choice, and others not. There are individuals who undergo gender transitions, strive for socioeconomic mobility, become single parents, lose their memory due to illness, or turn into abusive partners. The premise captivated me from the beginning, and when I got to the end, I still wanted to know more about the characters, who were each so textured and full of humanity. Especially Jude and Reese and Early.

The book left me with many questions on identity. How do we see and define ourselves in a world that values only whiteness? How much of our choice to transform is rooted in self-love, self-acceptance, or self-hate? Whatever we choose to be, how much of that choice should be judged as right or wrong (or even judged at all)?

Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with a gin & tonic because Stella enjoys lounging in her pool with a gin soda-like drink in hand. I also chose this drink for its transparency, which, like Stella, seems to vanish in to its surroundings.

twin sister

2 oz gin
4 oz tonic water

two lime wheels

  1. pour gin and tonic over ice
  2. stir and add more tonic water, if desired
  3. add two lime wheels (one for each twin!)

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And check out The Vanishing Half Book Club Kit, which includes its own custom cocktail pairing! 😍

📖Swing Time: 🍸dancing friend

📖: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (2016)
🍸: dancing friend

Why this book?

The experience of reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time felt like peeling back a giant onion. The novel is complex, nuanced, and multi-layered. It is a more of a collection of ideas and cultural analyses, than a plot-based story.

I started the book expecting a story about two best friends — the unnamed protagonist and Tracey. It starts that way, but I soon realized it was a lifelong reflection on a complicated relationship that quickly diverges into two paths determined by race, class, gender, and privilege.

While the girls’ friendship is shaped through dance, the book is more than just about their attachment to the art form. As we follow the protagonist in her job as an assistant to white pop star Aimee, I found that the novel leverages dance and music for a larger discussion of cultural appropriation, globalization, celebrity, race, and power.

The novel also reads like a tale of socioeconomic mobility, but it is really about the search for identity. The more time the protagonist spends working for Aimee, the more she distances herself from her roots of growing up poor in North London. But no matter where she goes or how much success she attains, she remains isolated, lost, and dissatisfied. She attaches her identity to the women around her, like Tracey and Aimee, but she can never quite grow into the woman she wants to be.

The novel closes with the protagonist watching Tracey dancing with her children in the same public housing building in which the girls grew up. This scene left me with questions that linger long after I finished the book. No matter where we go or what we become throughout our lives, do we always end where we begin? What kind of agency do we have in defining our own identities? Do we only become our true selves — our happiest selves — by returning to where we came from?

Why this drink?

This drink is a modified version of the Corpse Reviver 2, which Harry Craddock, (famous bartender who worked at the Savoy Hotel in London in the 1920’s and 1930’s), included in his 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Since the title of Zadie Smith’s novel references the 1936 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie of the same name, I wanted to pair it with a spin-off of a cocktail that was popular during the 1930’s. The Corpse Revivor 2 also originated in England, which serves as the setting of Smith’s novel during the protagonist’s childhood and adolescence.

The recipe I used is Alicia Perry’s Corpse Reviver No. 2. I adapted it with substitutes like white wine, triple sec, and star anise to replace some of the fancier spirits that I do not currently have access to in quarantine.

dancing friend

1 oz gin
3/4 oz sauvignon blanc
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup*

*for garnish: star anise and lemon twist/wheel

  1. combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well
  2. serve in a chilled glass
  3. garnish with a lemon twist/wheel and star anise

*how to make simple syrup: Pour sugar and water into a pan (using a 1:1 sugar-to-water ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

quarantine substitutes:
If you don’t have sauvignon blanc, use whatever other dry white wine you have on hand. The original recipe calls for Lillet Blanc. Similar spirits like Cocchi Americano and Short Path’s Americano Blanc should work, too.
If you don’t have triple sec, Cointreau will do! The original recipe calls for Cointreau anyway, but I think other orange based liqueurs will do, like Grand Marnier or curaçao.
If you don’t have star anise, but have anise extract, a drop or two (to taste) could serve as an alternative. The original recipe calls for absinthe to rinse the glass. Since this is such a small amount, it’s really to give the drink another dimension of flavor and scent. If you don’t have absinthe or a sub for it, omit this ingredient altogether.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And check out these reviews to learn more about the book: