Booktails From the Potions Library, With Mixologist Lindsay Merbaum

Curl up with a cocktail and Helen Oyeyemi’s “Peaces,” a delightfully surprising look at identity and what it means to be “seen”

In Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Peaces, Otto and Xavier set off on a non-honeymoon honeymoon aboard a gorgeous old sleeper train crossing Europe, a veritable antique in motion with a library car and a greenhouse, but no other guests. The locomotive is owned by the theremin-player Ava Kapoor, whose ancestors hid their ill-gotten fortune in some as-yet undiscovered place. Ava now stands to inherit an absurdly large fortune from another source entirely, a former patron whose gift comes with a curse: a test of her sanity. To keep the waters of her mind still, Ava lives aboard “The Lucky Day” with only two other women and her pet mongoose for company. It just so happens Otto and Xavier also have a mongoose of their own, named Árpád XXX, among other strange coincidences, some far too particular to be accidental. The couple soon realizes that on “The Lucky Day,” nothing is as it seems. 

In this delightfully surprising Calvino-esque novel from a magical realist master, lead characters become observers, and the observed can be unseen: “You run the gauntlet without knowing whether the person whose favour you seek will even be there once you somehow put that path strewn with sensory confetti and emotional gore behind you. And then, by some stroke of fortune, the gauntlet concludes, the person does exist after all, and you become that perpetually astonished lover from so many of the songs you used to find endlessly disingenuous.”

Darjeeling tea-infused vodka serves as the base of this booktail for the library car’s “double bed-sized fainting couch upholstered in brocade the colour of Darjeeling tea in the fourth minute of brewing…” and for the vodka found in the Xavier and Otto’s carriage, among other goodies like white wine, champagne, Kentucky bourbon, and crispy pieces of salted egg fish skin, the couple’s favorite snack. Lemongrass soju honors Shin Do Yeon, Xavier’s wealthy and formidable aunt, who gave the pair the train tickets as a gift and enjoys many soju milkshakes in their absence, plus “gin rummy parties with extra gin.” Lemon and simple syrup evoke a fateful moment recounted by Ava’s girlfriend (also the train operator) who watches as Ava drinks Pimm’s and lemonade, completely unaware of her patron’s son–a pivotal though largely invisible figure in the novel–as he makes himself ridiculous in an attempt to capture her uncapturable attention. 

This booktail is presented atop sumptuous waves of green velvet fit for an old fashioned seat cushion or fainting couch. The background is papered with a single black and white sketch of a train interior, the second row inverted, mirroring the first, while the third row alternates between right side up and upside down, a symbol of varying levels of awareness and alternate states of consciousnesses. Violets adorn the velvet around the glass for the violets in the garden car. The drink itself is served in a vintage martini glass, with a short stem to mitigate spills suffered over the course of this rollicking ride. 

Peaces

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Darjeeling tea-infused vodka
  • 1 oz lemongrass soju
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz lemon juice

Instructions

First, prepare the vodka by adding 1 cup of vodka and 1 Tablespoon loose leaf Darjeeling tea to a jar. Cover and shake, then set in a cool, dry place for five hours. Strain and discard the tea, then add the infused vodka to a shaker, along with a large cube or chunk of ice. Pour in the soju, simple syrup, and lemon juice. Agitate vigorously until the ice begins to break up and the shaker turns frosty. Strain into a martini glass. 

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