Author: Donia Bijan
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Iran / Immigrant Experience / Cooking / Food / Mother-Daughter Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books (10/11/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did, super quick.
One-sentence summary: A warm, inviting memoir about an Iranian-American chef's childhood, her Iranian parents, her Parisian culinary training, and her search for her own happiness.
Do I like the cover?: I can't decide: I hate the font but I do rather like the sort of precious, cutesy images.
I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber, Firoozeh Dumas
First line: My mother had been dead eight days when I showed up in her kitchen.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, and gift to the foodie or memoir addict in your life!
Why did I get this book?: I love stories of the immigrant experience, and being a foodie, I can't resist the mix of narrative and recipe!
Review: Although I'm not always a memoir person, I'm a sucker for stories involving food. Bijan's memoir about her mother, her own culinary memories, growing up Iranian, and setting out to be a chef against her father's wishes charmed me from the first page. When she closed the prologue with recipes for cardamom tea and orange cardamom cookies, I knew I was in love.
Bijan's book is a memoir and homage to her family; as she writes in her Author's Note, it is "an attempt to find answers to the questions I never asked my parents, such as How did it feel to start your life from nothing?". Working from her mother's untimely death, she moves mostly chronologically from her childhood in idyllic, pre-Islamic Revolution Iran through her family's forced migration to California where she and her family struggled to find their place in the U.S. (Anyone who's read Persepolis will appreciate the situation the Bijans faced if they returned to Iran, but even those unfamiliar with Iranian history won't be confused as Bijan writes briefly but clearly about it.)
Bijan's writing is straight-forward but possesses lovely sensory details that I so enjoy, especially when reading about food. Anyone who's read about Julia Child will enjoy the cameo by Madame Brassart at Le Cordon Bleu as well as the other tidbits about the famed institution.
And even though I'm not captivated by the culinary world, I found Bijan's sections about her education at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to be fascinating, and I found myself hoping she'd write a more detailed memoir about that. Bijan writes passionately and honestly about becoming a chef in the '80s, both in Paris and in the US, and the trials and joys she faced as often the only female chef in a kitchen. (There's a shocking story about a broken hollandaise sauce and her chef instructor's response that left my jaw on the ground; I would not have had Bijan's fortitude and it was one of many stories that made me admire her!)
I closed the book feeling like I knew Bijan's family and I miss spending time with her (and her food!). This is a fast, sweet, enjoyable read that will make your mouth water. (My wife and I plan to make her Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant this weekend and one of the sumptuous desserts -- if we can pick one!).
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Maman’s Homesick Pie to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 11/4. For another entry, be sure to check out my interview with Donia Bijan on October 24!