This is not a book about food - yet the smells of food: delicious, succulent, flavoursome, rich and sweet, light and refreshing, waft through every page of The Camel Trail. Judy Jackson's new novel, a saga of four generations of a Jewish family, takes us from Safed in the mountains of Galilee in the 1830s to north London in the 1970s.
The tale, which is based on a true story, follows David, orphaned in the great Safed earthquake of 1837, to the merchant society of mid-Victorian Gibraltar and then on to the London of the 1870s; and Dina, his daughter who returns to the sardine merchants of Gibraltar only to be catapulted back to London as an impoverished young widow. Then we follow Dina's daughter, Anna, who finds fulfilment in the iridescent strands of cooling sugar and the unctuous smoothness of melted chocolate until wartime rations force her into more creative efforts with sheeps' heads and the occasional hard-won onion.
Each chapter of the book is prefaced by a recipe, usually from a family notebook. But it is not just the recipes which create the conviction that the love of food and the love of creating food binds this family together - and is the solace, especially of the women, in times of trial - of which there are many. Such an inherited passion is not uncommon in southern Europe but it is rare among British families - with the exception of British Jewish families for whom food remains the glue which holds the generations together. F
Food apart, The Camel Trail is a stonkingly good story. Moving seamlessly from Gibraltar in the 1830s to London in the 1940s, it charts the tragedies and joys of each generation of the Levy family as they rise to wealth and power, and sink back to relative obscurity until, at last, the dark secret which David has carried from Safed, and which haunted both his children and his grandchildren, is unearthed by his great-granddaughter.