Monday, February 28, 2011

The Kitchen Reader: The Language of Baklava

This month, the Kitchen Reader read "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber, as chosen by Lisa from The Fork on the Road.

via Diana Abu-Jaber's official website

The book is a memoir of the Jordanian-American author growing up in both the US and Jordan. The memories are told almost exclusively through food and include a number of what are probably tasty Arab food. Every review I read of this book was glowingly positive, so I feel like a real outlier to say that the book bored me, almost to the point of me hating it.

My reaction has to do with the fact that I'm a second-generation immigrant - my parents immigrated to North America from Asia back in the 60s, so Abu-Jaber's memoir shares a lot of similarities to my own upbringing. I question whether she truly embraced her Jordanian heritage as much as she describes when growing up in the US, as this was a period of time where uniqueness was not openly embraced and respect for other cultures wasn't at the same level it is now (at least in multi-cultural cities). I also didn't understand the longing that her father Bud and his numerous brothers/cousins/uncles (I couldn't keep track of them all) had for the "old country" - I had grown up with the attitude that the new world held all the prosperity, and that there was no looking back. Add on top of all this that I couldn't keep track of all the relatives in the story, nor was the writing compelling enough to make me care about the characters, so it made for a disappointing read.

5 comments:

Jennifer said...

I tried to get into this one...and just couldn't.

PharmaFoodie said...

Oh good, it wasn't just me!

sarah said...

Oh dear. :( I really enjoyed the stories and the recipes. I guess it just wasn't to your taste. Maybe next month's book will perk you up? I hope you are planning to read Anthony Bourdain. Because I am planning not to like that one!! :-P I look forward to hearing what you think.

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) said...

Being from a boring old Midwestern family, I enjoyed reading about her multi-cultural upbringing because it was so different from my own. I'm always a little skeptical about childhood stories told in that detail (who really remembers all that about their life at 8?), but I took it with a grain of salt. It's interesting to compare perspectives, though!

PharmaFoodie said...

Stacy, I can see how you would find the descriptions to be exotic but to me, a Midwestern family (or technically the equivalent for me, the average Canadian family) seemed glamorous at the time! I guess the grass is always greener on the other side...I agree that the stories seemed grandiose - I imagine if she has here father's story-telling gene, then the memories have been appropriately romanticized!

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