I'm not going to pretend that I've read all of this yet - that's a work in process, but I wanted to write about it before Christmas because it's a wonderful book and maybe just what somebody who reads this is looking for.
Red Sands is the second in a planned trilogy that started with the magnificent 'Black Sea'. Neither book is especially easy to catagorise - 'Black Sea' sits in the cookbook section of my local Waterstones, but recipes are only a part of what it contains and not necessarily the main part. 'Red Sands' is definitely focused around food, but not really around recipes, which are more or less relegated to footnote status at the end of each chapter. Calling them travel books feels slightly reductive as well, although it's probably more accurate than cookbook.
What I can say with certainty is that the mix of reportage and recipes works perfectly for me. I don't often choose to read contemporary travel writing - historical accounts are a different matter, but the focus on food, and that you can read the essay and then cook or drink something that brings it to life - that's compelling.
The photography here is also compelling - all of it, be it food, geography, or people. I can't currently check if Theodore Kaye and Ola O. Smit worked on Black Sea as well, but there's a house style which suggests they did (I'm going to miss being with my mother and her dog, but it will be great to get back to my own things, especially my books). The images of food look good, the landscape looks dramatic - though not always pretty, and the traces of the soviet years are historic as well as weirdly nostalgic for someone old enough to remember the end of the U.S.S.R, albeit form a safe distance. There are other images of architecture and landscapes which are breathtakingly beautiful.
For me the real magic is in the way food and people are centered though. We all need to eat, sharing food with friends, or strangers, is a great pleasure - it's one of the ties that bind. Shared enthusiasm for a certain restaurant, cafe, or bakery. A particular recipe for a plov or a combination of ingredients which seems particularly evocative of an area, it all brings life to the words.
And actually, maybe it's the words that are the real magic. Eden is a joy to read in a way that makes quite a large book with sharp corners my chosen bedtime reading. There's a warmth in the way places and people are described that feels both clear eyed and affectionate that I find irresistible. I would be staying up late reading this every night if it weren't for the early starts the dog demands (early starts and long walks, with the best will in the world I'm done for by 10pm), but equally it's not a book that needs to be rushed and I'm enjoying reading it slowly over the weeks whenever I want to escape to a place far from a muddy English village for an hour or so.