The Bunker Diary – Book Review

Bought Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary randomly after seeing it in a list of recent-ish YA books. Entirely worth it. You can check it out at Goodreads, and here it is on Amazon.

Here’s the review:

When I finished this book, I slowly rose, lifted it protectively to my chest, walked a short distance to place it tenderly on a shelf, slumped to the floor, and stroked my sweet kitten. Only then did I begin to cry.

Did not expect that. Thinking on it, though, it makes perfect sense. Poetic, beautiful, miserable, realistic, empty-but-not, pointless-but-not sense. How many kidnappings happen like this? How many lives of the most unfortunate, whatever their circumstances—war, abuse, famine, bigotry—happen like this, in total ignorance and agony? Why? There’s no reason, none good enough. This is real stuff. No movie gloss, no impossible stunts. Just cruelty and slow, sad loss of almost everything.

Expected this to be sort of a combo of hellish reality TV and Saw. Bits of both, with added essence from Danganronpa and Changi, with some seriously twisted psychological experimentation included, whether that is His (the unknown captor’s) purpose or not. Was numb throughout most of it, but heavily compelled to read on, gutted by the helplessness, desperation and almost-utter-hopelessness—there is still some lovely, stubborn optimism hidden in here—every sensation delivered painfully by the diary format, nothing to do but self-reflect, survive, and maybe try to make things less terrible for those you’ve come to care for and depend on. Being as in the dark as the characters as to every how and why was frustrating, but, again, it’s real. Most everyone’s guts would be twisted and minced, reading this.

Loved Linus—he’s nothing but a sweet kid trying to sort himself out, only to be snared into nightmare by his good heart. Seeing him left to try and finish this sorting out in such a brutal situation is heartbreaking. Every character, their reactions, their attempts to cope—they’re all relatable, all understandable. Linus’ perspective of his fellow prisoners is poignant—through him, I see much of myself in this mixed bag of individuals. Not a great thought, in some cases. They don’t all get on—there’s some serious dislike going on with any number of causes—but there’s no desire to hurt, no sinking en masse into uncontrolled violence, despite no hope of salvation (though things get rougher with His intervention). I’m glad of this. It’s one of very few bright-ish points in this bleak novel.

The stream of consciousness parts are pretty intense—don’t think I’ve read any quite so raw. The random reflections and great importance of such little things, like remembering rhymes, worked well. What do people think about in this situation? What can they think about in this situation? Anything to distract, even when they can’t think about finding distractions any more—a powerful protective mechanism, I think.

I’ll repeat a few words to finish, I suppose—painful, realistic, beautiful. Very dark, clever and thoughtful, terrible content handled not quite delicately, but humanly. Kevin Brooks is most deserving of the high praise The Bunker Diary has received. Four and a half stars from me—shall be thinking of random moments from this book at random times for a long while.

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The Cheese Fondue Tiger Bread Cravings and the Fail Bread

On my ride home from the junior high and elementary schools in Minami Uji (South Uji) each afternoon, I would often stop at a certain bakery, situated just inside the doors of a large shopping centre called Aeon Mall. Rarely would I buy sliced bread here, unless I was in a pinch – a little sweet and shiny for my taste. The bakery a minute from my apartment well suited my loaf needs, though it also boasted some spectacular bread rolls – I think I blogged about them once, not long before I returned to Australia. It became a weekend routine, walking to that nearby bakery in the morning to acquire fresh and warm examples of my two favourites: one with cheese, and the other cheese and bacon, spiced with pepper. However, this bakery didn’t have what the bakery on my ride home from school did.

And what this place had were rolls of tiger bread stuffed with cheese fondue.

Cheese Fondue Tiger Bread

I had no idea, initially. The first time I bought them I failed to read the label properly, and thinking they were common tiger bread rolls, got them to eat with my beef stroganoff that night. Such a surprise it gave me, when I bit one open to find it full of some unknown dairy substance. Perhaps it was sour cream or soft cream cheese, I thought initially, but on closer investigation back at the bakery, I easily read that it was cheese fondue. Not something I ever expected to find in tiger bread.

Quickly recovering from the shock I’m sure any would experience on discovering fondue in their bread instead of coating it on the outside, I realised the taste was just incredible. The bread warm and soft, tiger’s top all crusty and crackly, glistening ever-so-slightly with oil remains, loaded with this amazingly light and flavoursome cheese fondue. I would ride home smelling it from inside the plastic shop bag dangling from my handle bars, the slightly greasy paper bag within catching my eye as I checked for oncoming traffic, full of anticipation.

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Recently, I’ve been experiencing some quite full-on hankerings for this bread. Unfortunately, I’m yet to see it in an Australian bakery. I’ve been trolling about the internet in search of recipes, but, unable to find what I’m looking for, more and more I’m lamenting the sweet girl in that bakery on the last day I was there (I was returning to Uji City Hall after the summer closing ceremony at junior high, and had to pause to buy a final roll. Devastated when there were none on display, I asked when the next batch was due and waited twenty-five minutes for them to finish baking, ensuring I was late for one of our final meetings) laughing apologetically and refusing to give in when I begged for the recipe. “You can’t buy bread like this in Australia,” I told her. Still, she refused to relent to my foreigner charm, keeping her bakery’s secrets.

Tired of longing, I put yeast on our shopping list and yesterday evening attempted to re-create the amazing cheese fondue tiger bread from the Minami Uji Aeon Mall Bakery. As the only bread I’ve made before was a basic flat bread to eat with spicy mince, attempting something like this without an exact recipe probably wasn’t the best way to go. At least, not while expecting something matching your wild hopes and imagination to come out of it.

Now follows an account of the Amazing Fail Bread of January 1, 2013:

It didn’t appear a lost cause. At least, not totally. It was definitely something resembling bread coming out of the oven. That  was some consolation.

Beth had been having some major concerns between kneading and shaping and leaving to rise, sitting back in front of “Perfume” in between stages: the yeast in water and sugar hadn’t fizzed and frothed, and she may have powdered the bench with too much flour for kneading. She may, in fact, not have kneaded the dough well enough at all. After the first hour of rising, in her hope Beth though the dough may have expanded minimally, but it wasn’t much to punch down, fist becoming quickly greased and slippery with olive oil as she struck the doughy blob, wet slaps resounding.

Patted into ten little rolls, after another hour again they’d failed to puff out to double their size. But still they were stuffed with spoonfuls of cooled cheese fondue and pinched closed, placed deep within 180 degrees. Fearful that the questionable products of her experimentation would catch alight, Beth checked the rolls periodically, and with increasing sadness saw that they did not develop the lovely tiger crust, nor even brown, remaining only dense doughy blobs on twin baking trays. After forty minutes they were still quite pale, so she left them for another fifteen, wondering if the cooking time should be lengthened to allow such dense bread to cook through.

Removed from the oven, though barely risen, they were now browned. But curse kitchen ineptitude and a lack of appropriate recipes to follow! She had created fail bread!

Fail Bread

They were tough little rounds, more like biscuits than bread and as heavy as lead, a challenge for teeth to meet through. Rock-hard and chewy, her head soon ached, temporal muscles working so hard to tear her sad creation apart. And the cheese fondue within had flattened and solidified at the base of each roll, reduced to a state even tougher than the bread itself.

‘The bread failed,’ she announced rather dismally, her admittedly childish hopes of presenting her family with something not identical, but alike enough to the legendary bread she remembered so well now totally dismantled. But at least the fail bread was edible. It hadn’t exploded, nor caught alight. And having been consoled by stories of professional-standard electric bread makers sometimes failing to produce the bread promised, Beth decided that her experimentation was not in vain. With experience and patience, and flour designed especially for baking bread and pizza bases, the future would surely see her produce a cheese fondue tiger bread roll that she could be proud of.

That future, she thought wryly as she wiped down the kitchen bench, had better come before I’m rendered legally crippled by these cravings.