Food is a delicious way to draw readers into the nurture, love and hospitality of relationships, culture and tradition in Heroes of the Secret Underground.
Even without context, the paragraph extracted from the Heroes of the Secret Underground reveals how the abundance of food equates to love and protection. This is the early part of the book:
There’s too much food like always. Cabbage and dumplings. Cabbage in sweet and sour vinegar. Cabbage and mince-meat pancakes. Hungarians love their cabbage. Poppy-seed rolls, sour cherries in sweet juice, melt-in-your-mouth angel wing biscuits, strudel with the flakiest pastry, and Louie’s favourite, kuglof, which looks like a rocky mountain with drippy chocolate, twirled between twists of dry-sweet vanilla cake.
Revelations of food entice readers to join the family table in the summer of the International Year of Peace, Sydney, 2000.
The main characters, Louie and her brothers live in the Majestic Hotel run by their Hungarian grandparents where food and hospitality are in abundance. However there are dark secrets hidden from them by their grandparents. Louie and her brothers climb higher and higher to the top of the Majestic Hotel in search of answers. It is there, that they time slip into the winter of the Nazi occupation in Budapest, 1944, where they meet their grandparents as children. Together in a thrilling race for survival, they uncover the secrets of the past to bring justice to the present and future.
In the winter of 1944, Budapest, starvation haunts the city. Thousands of people hide from capture by the Nazis and the fascist Arrow Cross in The Glass House. Food takes on a powerful new meaning here:
Louie’s quiet as they enter the inner courtyard. Girls are chattering, ladling out cabbage soup without any meat. Endless queues wait for them. Girls are washing dishes and boys are preparing more food. Hundreds of people pile into the brick and glass courtyard. There are hundreds more waiting inside for their turn at the thin cabbage soup. Bert’s stomach rumbles. He remembers the salami. He’s hungry and reaches into his pocket, then he sees a boy and girl waiting for cabbage soup. Their eyes are hollow and faces so thin. Bert looks at the salami for a long time. Then he gives it to them.
‘I love you, Bert,’ Louie whispers. ‘You lighten the burdens of others.’
He pulls a face. ‘Right, Louie. It’s just salami.’
Food tranforms into courage as Bert is faced with the choice. Keep the salami for his family or give to another. When he sees the desperate children lining up for thin cabbage soup in The Glass House, he gives the precious salami to a starving girl and boy. Food has made Bert a hero to me.
By the end of the novel, the secrets of the past are unlocked. Louie and her brothers return to The Majestic. Order is reimposed, but there is change as the young people have fought evil to become heroes of justice. The community is invited to join the family with a feast of food:
Rugs and umbrellas are dotted over the grass. Grandma, with the help of the chef and housekeeper, has prepared a table overflowing with cabbage rolls, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, dill pickles, chocolate walnut pancakes, poppy seed cake, strudel, and kuglof, that looks like a rocky mountain with drippy chocolate, twirled between twists of dry-sweet vanilla cake. Everything’s ready.
Enjoy the Hungarian food and how food integrates with the great journey of life.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Susanne!
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee, you'll find Susanne in Istanbul speaking to 1000s of kids about NO bullying; advocating for the United Nations Vision2020 in a campaign for sight, recording The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses for Vision Australia; in remote indigenous schools bringing literacy to kids from pre-schoolers to young adults. Susanne Gervay’s loved books include her anti-bullying I Am Jack books; YA books Butterflies (disability), Shadows of Olive Trees (feminism); picture books Elephants Have Wings (Harmony Day), The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses (Vision2020) and Heroes of the Secret Underground empowering kids to become warriors of change.