Elizabeth Zott is a famous cooking show host in the 1960s. People love the way she beings cooking to their homes which is quite different from what everybody else does. She explains the chemistry behind the food and the processes she operates in the kitchen because, well, cooking is simply chemistry. But this is not what the mother of 10-year-old Madeline had in mind. She wanted to work in a lab and do serious research. However, she was ahead of her time, women were supposed to marry and take care of the home and children but not taken seriously as scientists. Only Calvin Evans, one of her colleagues who is as passionate about chemistry as Elisabeth, recognises her potential and treats her as an equal. They quickly become much more than colleagues. As lovers, they are soulmates and have found the other part they have always missed. Fate, however, had other plans for them.
Bonnie Garmus‘ novel is a rollercoaster of emotions which first and foremost lives from the outstanding protagonist who is unique and exceptional in all respects, a feminist long before the word existed in the common knowledge, stubborn and intelligent at the same time. Life is so unfair to her that I wanted to shout at times, but, on the other hand, “Lessons in Chemistry” also highlights what a change a single person can make.
Elizabeth has chosen a highly misogynist environment, science labs in the 1950s were no places for women, except for the secretaries. Already the idea that she could have an equal – not to speak of a superior – mind as her male colleague seems unimaginable. But not only does she encounter men who look down on her, harassment and even assaults are normal parts of a woman’s professional life. When she encounters Calvin, things seem to have the potential to change, but he, too, despite being a prodigies and highly regarded, cannot influence his colleagues’ attitudes that much.
A female fighter who only briefly after the birth of her daughter goes down, but stands up again. She uses her cooking show to inspire others, to send out her messages ignorant of conventions and the risk of losing her job. She knows that things must change and that women need the same chances as their male colleagues. The fight she has chosen seems unwinnable und futile, but for her, it is worth every setback.
A wonderful novel, funny and tragic, oscillating between the emotional extremes, with amazing female characters who even today can inspire and motivate readers since the battle of equality still has not been won.