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Storytelling Is Not Dead: Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts – A Review

Please check out my previous Storytelling posts here.  And my 365 Reviews here.

I’m at the end of my semester, and I am thrilled!  I’ll miss my first semester students, for sure…but I’m happy to have time this break to bring you some reviews of books that I’ll be diving into this break, starting with one that’s fairly weighty.

The passing of Anthony Bourdain shocked and saddened the world.  His openness and perspective on life and the world made him, and still makes him, a treasure.  So when my buddy Adan told my about Hungry Ghosts, a collection of horror tales based around food and steeped in Japanese culture, I bought it that day.

Title: Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts 

Author(s): Written by Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose; featuring a host of amazing artists in this collection

Publisher:  Berger/Dark Horse (2018)

Age Rating: 17+

This collection is more than just a graphic novel.  This book is a cultural artifact with story, history, reflection, and even original recipes!  I have dabbled in these recipes, and will comment on them later!  Get hungry…

The stories themselves are presented in a Canterbury Tales-esque way, following a seventeenth-century Edo Period game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (100 Candles).  Samurai would sit around 100 candles, telling tales of horror and mystery, each blowing out a candle at the end of each story and looking into a mirror to see if a demon had possessed them during the tale.  The darker the room got, the more frightening the experience became.

This book plays with that concept, except it’s a rich guy that has hired a team of industry-celebrated chefs for a charity dinner, and asks the chefs to share tales of food and horror to wrap the night.  Each tale is unique in its tone and art, and the ending, one might say…is satisfying.

The back matter is worth mentioning here because while the stories are cool, I find that the cohesion of the book comes in its ability to give us some parting gifts that make the tales even more digestible.  I might even start with the back matter with this one since a good chunk of it explains and defines the ghouls and ghosts that appear in the stories.

In the back we get the following: a dedication to Anthony Bourdain; a letter from Joel Roes about the book; five new, original recipes from Anthony Bourdain inspired by the graphic novel; a guide to the spirits in the tales; original cover illustrations from the Dark Horse comics that the book is collected from; and a list/bio of all the amazing people that had a hand in creating this cultural tome.

Cool, Kallenborn, but what are the stories like?  Well, they are not for kids.  There is no serious nudity in the book, but there are situations and language that are adult.  If a senior took it off of my desk and read it would I freak out?  I don’t think so.  Like I mentioned earlier, the book is steeped in culture and tradition, and the gratuitousness that is found in the book is par for the genre.  With that said, this one might be just for you.  It’s an experience for those of us that find ourselves in the middle of the Venn diagram covering food, horror, and culture.

I make it no secret that I feel food plays an important role in our personal stories.  I find new food experiences to be an adventure, and not having many food adventures growing up, I’m making up for lost time.  Which brings me to the recipes in this book; I tried one last night, and I bought the ingredients for another two.

Started with the “Tokyo Ramen.”  This was the most involved recipe I’ve ever made.  It took about four hours, although most of the first three was simmering the base broth.  Then it became a series of well-timed moves to create this fantastic dish.  Seriously, it was delicious, and for a first-time Ramen-from-scratch maker, I’m proud of myself!

The time and effort put into this dish was well spent.  Some people find solace in fishing, some watching sports…I find my peace surrounded by aromas and dirty dishes.

Going into this Christmas break, I’m happy that my story is my story.  My life isn’t perfect.  All of us have our own insecurities, fears, and troubles; Anthony Bourdain is a sad reminder of this.  But I’m happy that I was able to find a book, recommended by a good friend, that I enjoyed, found recipes, made an amazing dinner that was shared with friends and family, and that (even if a tiny bit) connected me to a man whose travels inspired millions.

It’s strange how getting a book recommendation in a random group text, brought me to this.  Story crosses our paths each and every day.  Find it, acknowledge it, reflect on it.

Talk to you later.

Happy Storytelling!


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