Rummanah Aasi
 Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.
   But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Review: All of my Goodreads friends have given Lessons in Chemistry 4 or 5 stars and it has also landed on fellow blogger's favorite lists for 2022, so I am definitely an outlier when it comes to this popular book. If you are curious about this book even after reading my review, I would encourage you to take my review with a grain a salt and look up what other people thought.
  Lessons in Chemistry is set in the early 1960s in which our protagonist chemist Elizabeth Zott repeatedly reminds her colleagues and the reader that she is not the 'common woman' who is content on being a housewife and a mother, but a scientist who needs to be taken seriously. We follow her as she falls in love with a fellow scientist, has his child, is side-lined by double standards, sexually harassed, and finally ousted from her job. She then becomes an overnight sensation as a host of a 'radical' cooking show in which she can be candid to housewives and other female viewers of the show. 
  Lessons in Chemistry is the epitome of the first wave of feminism. I found Elizabeth to be less of a character and more of a talking piece for the author. She is cold and abrasive. Considering how much trauma Elizabeth has experienced in her life, which is alarmingly untouched or explored but rather used as 'part of her character', she has turned off all of her emotions. It is as if showing vulnerability displays weakness. 
  I also did not find this book to be funny at all. There is a quip in which Elizabeth is called into her daughter's school because her child was requesting the school library to have Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead so she could read it. While I understand how the author wants to display how smart the young child is, but why Norman Mailer, an author who is a well known reputation of being a domestic abuser? Why encourage her to ask for Nabakov, another writer who created a problematic female character Lolita, who by the way is also sexually objectified? Why not, I don't know, pick a female author?
  Elizabeth is constantly undermined because she is a woman, but in the end this so called 'feminist fairy tale' has a happy for now ending not because the patriarchy has been dismantled or someone's light bulb goes off and finally sees Elizabeth as a human being, but thanks to the favors of a rich, white, female benefactor who is equipped to strike back at everyone who has humiliated Elizabeth in the book. However, dear reader, let's not forget that there is this thing called racism that also exists and it's bad even though I can't recall a single character of color in this entire book. Considering how much this book rankled and infuriated me, I'd like to think that my 2 stars is actually very generous. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, including the use of the 'c' word, scene of sexual assault, homophobia, mention of suicide of a family member, death of a loved one, and sexual harassment. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
1 Response
  1. I really like hearing how different people see books, it's what makes blogging so alive and interesting. You are right on all counts, but I'll admit I enjoyed the book when I read it. Though now you've got me thinking more deeply about it.

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