Interview with Mihály Dés on his new book Gastro guide to my mother
Könyvklub: The title is quite catchy but what is behind it? A cookbook disguised as a family novel or a family novel disguised as a cookbook?
D.M.: I hope it covers both, with an additional humorous cooking tutorial and thanks to my son, Marci, a family picture book. These four elements should result in a witty portrait of my mother. And I hope it does.
Könyvklub: How do all these genres come together in one book?
D.M.: Every part has a common thematic component: my Mum, and there is also a style bond throughout: humor. In the first part, I present my mother and her principles with a Holy Trinity of the stove and a Ten Commandments of the kitchen. The second part is the novel of my mother itself, following a gastronomic thread. The third part is a cookbook, yet that also involves stories and each recipe is spiced with one of my mother’s funny quotes.
Könyvklub: Family novel and mother portrait. What about the recipes? Are they really coming from your mother’s kitchen? If so, when and how did you learn them?
M.D.: I moved to Barcelona in 1986, though my novel Budapest baroque, published last year, was written mostly in Budapest. During those four years, while I was writing it, I regularly visited my mother and started learning how to cook with her. Each time we prepared a dish, I asked questions, took notes; then I went home and prepared them again. I had no literary intentions. I just didn’t want these wonderful recipes to disappear. But my mother died last year and as a self-therapy, it came to me that I have to write it – not only the recipes but her life too.
Könyvklub: And did writing work as a therapy?
M.D.: Absolutely. It is a great payoff that my mother would be very happy with this book. Moreover, she was happy already when I was only learning cooking from her, because she knew back then it will give something for posterity. If not more than in this world alive.
Könyvklub: You mentioned your first novel, Budapest baroque. How could you write such a different book afterwards?
M.D.: It came from a very different drive. In that book I wanted to write a fiction on various things using some biographical elements (an epoch, a city, a unique loitering lifestyle…) and on other questions that interest me, such as desire, the faithless seeking for God, the phenomenon of kitsch or immaturity). In this recent book I wanted to fictionalize an absolutely autobiographical story. But humor, the self-ironic tone is quite alike in both books.
Könyvklub: Your son, Marci, illustrated the book. The fifth of the renowned artists’ hommage of your mother is by your brother, the musician, László. Is it highly recommended to be an artist in your family?
D.M.: Hell, no! The family is big, so there is a big variety of choice. I have five siblings: there is a taxi driver, a businessman, a psychologist and a teacher among them. My brother László happens to be one of the greatest composers and possibly the best saxophonist of Hungary. That is only the irony of fate his son became a genius percussionist and my son a painter.
Könyvklub periodical, April, 2014