Short Story Review: Parts Unknown: Narnia

ANTHONY BOURDAINWhen Anthony Bourdain passed away over the summer, all of a sudden I realized just how many other people were fans of his work. Except for his book, which often tops lists of food journalism, I thought I was sorta fringy watching every episode of his food journalism and bringing it up at parties (because it’s so good. I just can’t help it). When Bourdain passed, right as the media was winding up to go berserk, my family called because they knew I couldn’t stop talking about Bourdain and hadn’t for years. Turns out, this was typical. Bourdain–despite of, or perhaps because of his rough edges—is very widely admired.

At times a bit caustic and even off-putting, the hardened, gritty Bourdain was seen softening over the years—not in the way you might think (he would still put his life on the line for an adventurous sequence or slurp ungodly eats). He became more palpably interested in people and more open to their many ways of doing life on this spinning rock. He became one of the incredible journalists who is somehow also a humanitarian, just by going and talking. He did some Emmy-award winning work (which was completely earned) and also spent a lifetime of changing and growing off camera. As a chef. As a reporter. As a person. The loss is a tragedy.

All that to say that in the dearth of Bourdain mentions in the months following his death, I came across a little gem (which The NewYorker proclaimed a “triumph”) by Rachel Manija Brown for Archive of Our Own. Of course, the best is to read Bourdain’s books (Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, plus two others) and to watch all of his shows in their entirety, like No Reservations and Parts Unknown. (Also, A Cook’s Tour and The Layover, which is a useful and cool show that didn’t last long.) When you’re all done, however, you will want to search out one particular article. If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia (or, actually, have even watched the movie) and if you know Bourdain, you’ll get a kick out of this quick read.

RACHEL MANIJA BROWNA pre-written eulogy that soothes the pain, this is fan-fiction at its best. Legend tells it that Bourdain actually came across this spoof of his character and his show, and liked it himself. I don’t know how you couldn’t. It’s so exact, so dead-on. It is what you might expect: an episode of Parts Unknown in short story form. In the episode, Bourdain goes to Narnia. Fantasy plus food? What could be better? And it really is written so painstakingly, with such a care for the details of both Narnia and Bourdain. Think those are topics that would never meet? That just wouldn’t work? That’s part of what makes it work: the combination between Bourdain’s devil-may-care acceptance of any new culture and his penchant for the seedy side of things, even in Narnia. This is a must-read. It really works.

Now I know I have talked it up too much. Still, read it.

You can find the article, here, at Archive of Our Own.

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