Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Review - Maman's Homesick Pie, Donia Bijan

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen


Donia Bijan        

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Food and Cooking; Middle East; France; Living Abroad

Synopsis: Bijan recounts her journey from Iranian childhood to American chef.

Date finished: 10 July 2013

Rating: ***

I was disappointed with this book. I had high hopes for it; after all, it was about three topics I love to read about: food, Iran, and mothers. I even enjoyed the writing sample I’d read online before purchasing it. I’m not sure why it was such a disappointment. The best reason I can come up with is that Bijan didn’t know what she wanted her book to be about. It covered food, becoming a chef, leaving Iran, becoming an American, Le Cordon Bleu & France, her father’s disappointment in her becoming a “cook,” and her relationship with her mother. That’s too many things to cover well in a 250-page book. And the book suffered for it. I think she’d intended the book to be about blending her life experiences on, and the flavors of, three continents, but she never quite brought it together.

I loved her mother. She was very much like the mother in The End of YourLife Book Club. When the revolution happened in Iran in the late 1970s, the Bijan family was on vacation in Spain. They could not return to Iran or they’d be executed because of the mother’s work in the parliament prior to the revolution. Whether this is truth or overblown, the family makes its way to America, where the mother embraces her new circumstances while the father wallows in resentment, and after failing the exam that would allow him to practice medicine in the U.S., his anger and resistance eats him whole.

So, the mother (and father, too) fascinated me. But the parts about the author seemed glib and boastful. Perhaps this owes itself to nothing but her lack of time spent fleshing out the story. I found my mind wandering while I read, and that almost never happens.

Other disappointments: Iran was barely discussed. The recipes weren’t very clear considering how complicated they seem. There was no mention of “Maman’s Homesick Pie,” so the title didn’t make sense to me.

I did, however, learn a few food-related tidbits, and there were several wonderful moments that I’ll quote here:

quince must be cooked before eating (page 45)

Crème Fraîche is made of heavy cream and buttermilk (page 177)

We told her the best way to know [if a persimmon is ripe] is to ask her husband to hold a persimmon in one hand and her breast in the other. When the two feel the same, the persimmon is ripe. (page 66)

France had given me a lasting gift: to leave a place with longing in your heart to return. (page 163)

You were made of stone if you didn’t fall for this dish. (page 169)

I never tired of the pattern of assembling a dish, falling in love with it, sending it away. You shrug and start all over, but each time it feels different—you and your dish in perpetual courtship. (page 169)

Working beside [chefs from France’s one- and two-star Michelin restaurants] I couldn’t help measuring my skill against theirs. I knew it wasn’t magic they possessed, but magic they practiced. (page 171)

So, there were some transcendent moments, but all in all, this was not the read I was hoping for.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I don’t think so.

You might also enjoy:

Books about studying at Le Cordon Bleu:
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter,and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn    

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz


Books about Iran:
Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, Alison Wearing   

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