The Mussel Feast

by Birgit Vanderbeke

This is a family saga like no other. A mother and her two teenage children sit down to eat dinner, expecting the imminent arrival of the father. On the table - a pot of mussels - his favourite and a celebration for an expected promotion. As time ticks on, and he still isn't home, we become privy to terrible family secrets and witness the beginning of a quiet revolution. A sparkling gem of a book - best read in one sitting, so pick your moment.


That evening my mother, alternating between the small kitchen knife and scrubbing brush in her bright-red hand, was holding the mussels one by one under ice-cold water, all four kilos of them, scraping and scrubbing and rinsing several times - since my father couldn't bear the crunch of sand between his teeth - because he would be coming through the door with his promotion virtually in the bag; not officially of course, but he'd been given the nod from above. Though Mum grumbled jokingly that she didn't care for them much, and complained about her crooked spine, still we weren't allowed to help; leave it, if there's any sand in them then at least neither of you will be to blame, my mother said.
Translated by Jamie Bulloch


John Boyne by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Bernhard Schlink by The Reader

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