Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gente- The People of Ristorante Paradiso

Already being a fan of Natsume Ono's work, when I bought Ristorante Paradiso, I bought the sequel series, Gente- The People of Ristorante Paradiso, as well. As I said in my review of 'Ristorante Paradiso', I had little doubt that I wouldn't enjoy any of Natsume Ono's work. And I was right to not doubt her. Just as I loved 'Ristorante Paradiso', I also loved 'Gente', it's sequel series.

Gente could be looked at as a sequel and a prequel in that it covers events both before and after the events of Ristorante Paradiso. In 'Ristorante Paradiso', the main focus was on Nicoletta and Olga rekindling their relationship, and Nicoletta building one with Claudio. In 'Gente', the focus shifts to the bespectacled staff of Casetta dell'Orso. This series of vignettes gives us a closer look at the group of men that were mostly supporting characters in 'Ristorante' Paradiso', who at the same time, almost stole the show from the main character. With no real overarching plot, these books read like a set of short stories that are linked only by a common cast. Inevitably, some of the stories were more interesting than others, but all were enjoyable for the most part and only served to add on to the ambiance created in 'Ristorante Paradiso'.

Probably my favorite of the stories, featured Teo, the young, headstrong chef, introduced in 'Ristorante Paradiso', and Vanna, a new face and chef who had to quit before the events of 'Ristorante Paradiso'. At first, it seemed that Teo and Vanna didn't get along so well. Teo would cook uninspired dishes, and Vanna would criticize him for his lack of ambition, and thus, arguments would ensue. One night after work, Teo gentlemanly offered Vanna a ride home on his motorcycle so she wouldn't have to walk past some rowdy street punks. Inviting him up to her apartment, they get to talking over wine and Teo confides in Vanna why he lost his ambition as a chef and why he acts so rebellious to her criticisms. Teo's back story that he shares with Vanna really does well for his character and makes him stand out in this series, as well as give us some of the best dialogue within. And Vanna is definitely my favorite of the new faces we see, being a great foil for Teo and the key to his development. Though we don't get to see as much of her as Teo, she is more than a plot device to me. Teo's two part story is one of the longer plot lines in the series as well as one of the most dramatic, and Vanna is definitely the female lead, and in a way, Teo's love interest. Looking back, it's no surprise that this particular short grabbed my attention the most, being very well balanced and written, it had the most in common with the overall feel of 'Ristorante Paradiso'.

In contrast to Teo's story, which I loved, there were a few stories that I just "liked". Some of them were a little too disconnected for me to care much. For instance, one chapter focused on a couple's troubled relationship. The husband's infidelity naturally caused a rift between the two, and the wife was mulling over divorce. The way the author makes this relevant is by having one of the Casetta dell'Orso staffers convince the husband to amend his philandering ways, and make up with his wife over a nice dinner at the restaurant. It wasn't a bad story by any means, but the whole time, you just want the precious page space to be dedicated to the characters that we know and care about already. Probably the only story of the bunch that I didn't care for much at all featured a politician, torn over the decision to give his support to the new party in power or not. Most of this short doesn't feature any of the restaurant staffers at all, only having Claudio engage in a short, rather uninteresting conversation with the politician and his colleagues while they eat at Casetta dell'Orso, before the politician comes to his final decision on his dilemma. The problem with this vignette is very much the same as the one with the couple, only much worse. It doesn't hurt to introduce new characters, as proven with Vanna, but they need to have some level of relevance, or else I am just going to wish for more bespectacled wait staff, chefs and a sommelier that already had me charmed and interested.

If you liked 'Ristorante Paradiso', this three volume series is a must read. It is the perfect companion, or you might even say extension. It had exactly what I thought was missing from 'Ristorante Paradiso', but couldn't logically be added, and it's great that both series are structured differently. One with a developing story, and the other a series of shorts that compliment the original. This sets them apart enough that you could enjoy one, the other, or both. While not impossible to enjoy 'Gente' on it's own, it doesn't waste too much time reintroducing the characters that we get to know in 'Ristorante Paradiso', so you may feel a little in the dark, but it's definitely not necessary to have prior knowledge of the characters. But, I'm sure lovers of 'Ristorante Paradiso' and Natsume Ono fans have already read or plan to read 'Gente'. To those who haven't, be sure to read my review of 'Ristorante Paradiso', and know that I recommend 'Gente' just as highly.

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