“Soul Kitchen” – Jasmin Ramadan's Run-Up Novel to Fatih Akin’s Film
Actually it all started at “Sotiri’s” – a “greasy-spoon” in the Ottensen district of Hamburg. A place where people tuck into spinach in goat’s cheese sauce and grilled fish and then knock back a few shots of Ouzo afterwards – all very Greek. “Sotiri’s” belongs to Adam Bousdoukos and it is the setting of director Fatih Akin’s latest film, as well as the focal point of Jasmin Ramadan’s story.
Soul Kitchen is the title of this project among friends and it comes both in cinematic form as well as in the form of a novel. Akin made the film, Ramadan wrote the book. Bousdoukos, Akin and Ramadan are friends of old from their schooldays. Bousdoukos was the lead in Akin’s debut film Kurz und Schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock); he apparently bought the taverna from the money he earned acting in the film. The gang liked to hang out at “Sotiri’s”, pigging out on platefuls of greasy food and chewing the fat about all and sundry. It was the food of their forefathers, the food that keeps body and soul together – hence the title, “Soul Kitchen”. Then one day, explains Fatih Akin, all he wanted to was to try out his new word processing program, “Adam and his girlfriend had just split up, so I just set off writing and could not stop …‘Adam was lovesick, the restaurant was doing OK’ ... and, hey presto, in no time at all I had twenty pages of screenplay.”
Jasmin Ramadan, who is in her mid-thirties, was hired in no time at all to write the story before the story – it was all decided very quickly on a full stomach after they had had a meal together. Ms Ramadan is half-Egyptian and is therefore predestined to be part of this multi-cultural, home-cooking story. She had in fact already won a sponsorship award, but “Soul Kitchen – The Story. Part One” is her first novel and that is quite obvious.
Half-baked Hamburgers and turquoise-coloured ice-cream
In the story Adam is called Zinos. He has a fair amount of baggage to deal with, as the book reveals. As soon as he turned 18, his parents went back to Greece, leaving him in Hamburg with insufficient culinary skills and hardly any money. His older brother, Illias, is also not very much help – he is a small-time hood who spends more time in jail than out of it. No matter what Zinos touches, it always turns out to be somehow half-baked. The thing with his educational training, his arduous battle to earn a bit of money, not to mention his success (or lack of it) with women. He somehow muddles through. Then one day he opens his own, little taverna – the “Soul Kitchen”. This is the point in the story when the film plot begins.
In the film Zinos by the way is played by Adam Bousdoukos himself – what are friends for! Fatih Akin, who gained fame with films like Kurz und Schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock /1998), the award-winning, if somewhat hard-hitting Gegen die Wand (Head-On / 2004) or Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven / 2007), said that he was thrilled to finally get round to making a “light” film, the plan was to make a comedy. And the film Soul Kitchen is indeed full of laughs. Situation comedy that works without any words, brilliantly timed cutting that teases the jokes out of the scenes. In September 2009 at the Venice Film Festival Akin was awarded the Special Prize of the Jury for the film.
Like a big, greasy portion of chips
The book however is ponderous and stodgy, as if it has just been lifted out of the chip fat. It positively oozes with laboured wit, because Jasmin Ramadan keeps pushing the private-joke angle, albeit somewhat tiresomely. Again and again figures keep telling Zinos he looks like Adam Bousdoukos, they take out the film “Short Sharp Shock” from the videotheque – and on and on. Then there are the stilted associations – for example, “His business card was turquoise. In his childhood he loved to eat turquoise-coloured ice-cream,” and you ask yourself what is that all about. The treatment of the supporting roles is equally as superficial – they are randomly spread throughout the book and so over the top; vocational school teachers who are of no vital importance for the plot, yet whose exploits are prattled on about in long-winded paragraphs, be it their membership of a Hindu sect or a role they played in a TV documentary about stomach stapling operations.
There is however also a positive side to the “prequel” that has at least equally as much culinary clout as a portion of greasy chips - Ramadan’s invented run-up story really does deserve some credit because it endows the film characters with additional profile. A biography of the film heroes – what a charming idea. She describes how they were and what they are – giving the figures in the film a certain depth they would not have, had the book not been written. It is the “missing link”, as Akin says. Of course the two projects, the book and the film, function separately in their own right, but in the end it is Ramadan’s book that manages to impart the real feel of “Soul Kitchen” – with lovingly compiled recipes, one for every phase of Zinos’ life. And let’s face it – once you have tried the “Adios Stew”, your life will never be the same again.
is a free-lance author for the print and online media.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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