Friday, January 7, 2011
In this culinary memoir, Diana Abu-Jaber shares a candid and hilarious snapshot of her life amid her loving and maniacal Jordanian family. From her earliest recollections, Diana lives under the shadow of her father, the irrepressible and comical Bud, whose multiple dreams for the future clash uproariously. Bud longs to open a restaurant and is very tired of working at jobs that he feels are beneath his potential. He also longs return to Jordan to live amongst his multitude of crazy brothers, who goad each other and egg each other on into heightening feats of absurdity. Being the oldest of Bud's three daughters, Diana is the child who tests the waters. Though Bud is strict and militant about the opposite sex and schooling, Diana gives him a run for his money, pitting her fiery temper against his own. As Diana grows to adolescence under Bud's scrutiny, she travels from Jordan to America and back again, spending part of her life as a normal American girl living in the suburbs and part of her life among the many uncles, the strange Bedouin aunts and the myriad of street children who make up her Jordanian family. Peppered throughout Diana's life story are the recipes that both Bud and other family members have shared with her over the years, giving this very entertaining memoir a flavorful edge. Both uproariously funny and startlingly thought-provoking, The Language of Baklava is one woman's interpretation of the immigrant experience shared with flavor, love and gusto.
This was a book club selection. I thought it would be interesting to choose from a few food memoirs and see what we came up with. This book was the unanimous choice, and after I began reading it, I knew that I was in for one heck of a story. Aside from the interesting and delicious sounding meals described within the text, I noticed immediately how ridiculously funny the book was. I love foodie literature and will read almost anything that fits this description, but when I find a book that's as all-encompassing and playful as this one was, I really begin to get excited and greedily scoop all I can out of it.
Diana is a middle class American girl. But not really. Though she looks and acts like an American and her mother is a long-legged American beauty, Diana is really half Jordanian, a fact that Bud never lets her forget. From the time she's a little girl, the table is always heaped with delicious Jordanian foods and surrounded by a bevy of crazy uncles who seem to make it their life's mission to fly back and forth between Jordan and America. The brothers are all loud and boisterous, and Bud is the king of them all. They've come to America to make their fortunes yet when they get together, all they do is lament the fact that they are not in Jordan. Meanwhile, Diana is going to school and making friends with other American children and becoming the kind of child that gets under Bud's skin: a very American child who is sassy to her parents and doesn't want to eat the food he prepares for her. When Bud decides the family is moving back to Jordan, Diana and her sisters are in for some big changes.
Living in Jordan, the family is besieged by the uncles and Bud begins his hijinks in earnest. Fighting and carousing with the brothers and attempting to capture the dreams that eluded him in America, Bud finds that things in Jordan aren't what he thought they would be. Meanwhile, Diana is making new friends and new routines, and despite the fact that Jordanian ice cream bears no resemblance in taste nor appearance to its western cousin, she's happy and free to enjoy a life filled with games, children and laughter. Though there are some squabbles, everything seems to fit perfectly in place, until the day Bud comes home angry with his employment situation and decides that the family should move back to America.
When the family returns to America, things are much like they were in the past, but now Diana is a teenager and begins to torment Bud about boys and school, like any other American teen might. Though she likes being back in America, something has changed in Diana and now she can relate to Bud's ever-growing restlessness for his home in Jordan. Bud and his group of brothers are still lamenting the fact that they are not in Jordan, but Diana ignores this until the day when, as an adult, she travels there to finish her second novel. This time she feels that she has finally come home, and Bud, who has traveled along with her, is in top form, recklessly agreeing to buy a restaurant from one of his more swindly brothers. As Diana gets to know Jordan as an adult, she meets some of her more maniacal and ridiculous relatives, and learns how the seeds of Bud's personality were planted.
Not only was this a worthy memoir, but the inclusion of recipes made this book a superior read for me. I had a really enjoyable time learning about Diana and her family and quickly developed a soft spot for the ever-outrageous Bud. There are a lot of memoirs out there right now but this is one I think will stand out. Not only because of the story it tells, but because of the no-nonsense way it's rendered. Diana seems to be saying, "My family is nuts, take them or leave them, that's they way they are." I loved the unapologetic take on the lives of this Jordanian crew and will be interested in reading some of Abu-Jaber's fictional work as well. Recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM