“Osborne has the gift of both explanation and evocation.”

Matthew Parris on Lilla’s Feast - click here for the full review

In the Imperial War Museum in London there is a cookery book written in a Japanese internment camp in China during the Second World War. Yet it reads as if the war wasn’t there at all. The pages are jam-packed with recipes for cream puffs and popovers, for butterscotch and blancmange – as if filling your mind with something delicious could help shut out the things that you needed to forget. And that’s what my great-grandmother, who wrote this book, believed.

My great-grandmother’s name was Lilla. She lived until she was almost one hundred and one, and I was almost fourteen. Even at the end of her life, ever the determined younger identical twin that she was, she remained extraordinarily elegant, her long hair gently twisted up into a perfect chignon, her enviable legs always neatly crossed and only ever wearing fitted black lace and white diamonds that sparkled like those still burning bright blue eyes. Her bedroom was a through-the-looking-glass museum of furniture, pictures - even costumes - from the every corner of the world in which she had lived: China, where she had been born; India, where she had been a wife; even England, where she’d ended up when she had nowhere left to go. 

After her death, I discovered a long, thin box thickly packed with faded letters that had flown between Lilla, her first husband (my great-grandfather), his parents and his siblings, almost exactly one hundred years ago. As I pieced together the story that unfolded in them, I understood how she had found the will never to give up hope, and began to cry.