Tag Archives: Andre Dubus III

“Maman’s Homesick Pie” by Donia Bijan

Title: Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
Author: Donia Bijan
ISBN: 9781565129573
Pages: 254
Release date: October 11, 2011
Publisher: Algonquin
Genre: Memoir/cookbook
Format: ARC (Hardcover)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4 out of 5

Win this book!

I’m giving this book away to up to three lucky readers in the United States or Canada! Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win. I will be choosing a winner at midnight on November 15.

Read this if you liked: The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
Don’t read this if you hate: Food and/or family

In the wake of a tragic accident that claims the life of her mother, Donia Bijan finds herself lost in memories of her family’s history—from pleasant memories of growing up on the second floor of her parents’ hospital in Tehran to fearfully fleeing Iran for their lives.

Throughout her musings, Bijan—a classically trained and award-winning chef—returns again and again to the ties of food and family, memories and meals. Many of the meals mentioned and included have been reconstructed from memories both bitter and sweet. For Bijan, food and friends and family are inextricably linked:

If it weren’t for these friends, I would worry that I had imagined all those picnics, all those small, only-funny-to-us, you-had-to-be-there incidents that reveal who we are and where we came from. Without them, these memories grow milky with time, and my ability to sort through them becomes myopic. What remains fixed are the warm scents and flavors of childhood, like the cherry syrup that flavored our summer drinks, the sour fruit leather we shared in the backseat of the car, the sharp scent of sumac on grilled skewers of kebab.

For both Donia and her mother, cooking was a way to honor and comfort loved ones; but, at the same time, certain dishes bring up less idyllic memories, like the chicken and prune dish her father would make when her parents bitterly fought over Maman Bjian’s political leanings.

As Bijan tells the intertwined stories of her parents’ lives and her own—journeys from Iran to California, from childhood to motherhood, from oppression to freedom—she reflects on the distinctive, sometimes contradictory, immigrant experiences of her family.

Upon her mother’s death, Bijan discovers well-worn American recipes in her mother’s kitchen, and she wonders:

Why had a woman so well versed in Persian cuisine, who had weathered a revolution, exile, and threats to her life and built her family a new home through sheer will, felt pushed to the other side of belonging? Not one to be left out, she had seen a vital connection between food and belonging.

Through her mother’s example, Bijan, too, forges an identity and a place in entirely new world. She works hard to become the best possible chef, watching master mentors and realizing, “It wasn’t magic they possessed, but magic they practiced.”

Though the book is so saturated with images of food that aromas nearly waft from it, Bijan does not shy away from difficult topics. As well-to-do, highly skilled Iranians, her parents were targeted by Iranian revolutionaries. At a time when Arab Spring often dominates headlines, it is interesting to see the other side of a revolution—even one so fundamentally different from the ones we are witnessing now.

By focusing on her family’s upheaval through the prism of the one thing Bijan is sure she knows—food—the author successfully captures the uncertainty of the times without straying from the comforts that never left her: her mother and a warm meal.

This book should come with a warning label: Do not read while hungry! Aside from the thirty luscious-sounding recipes sprinkled throughout the book, Bijan’s narrative also goes into lush detail about food. I would’ve devoured the memoir much faster if my stomach hadn’t growled every time I picked it up!

The recipes, all of which are intimately tied to the Bijans’ history, look fabulous even without pictures. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but the directions seem clear and easy to follow. This book is immediately going on my kitchen shelf next to my favorite cookbooks to be referenced when I want to try cooking something new and exciting.

Well-written, light-hearted yet deeply moving, Donia Bijan’s memoir about growing up in Persian, American, and French kitchens doesn’t miss a step.

Quote of Note:

You live inside your parents’ lives until one day, they live inside yours.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what other reviewers on the tour have been saying:

October 10: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
October 14: Chick Lit Reviews
October 17: girlichef
October 20: Unabridged Chick
October 24: Luxury Reading
October 26: Chocolate and Croissants
October 27: Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
October 28: Peeking Between the Pages
October 31: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
November 1: A Bookish Libraria
November 3: Mockingbird Hill Cottage

Or leave a comment below to find out for yourself!

Top Ten Surprise Endings

This week, I’m writing about the top ten book endings that left me with my mouth hanging open–because of a cliffhanger, because the ending was mindblowing, and so on.

Because of my reading preferences, I’m not often left hanging off cliffs; I prefer books that build and allow me to solve mysteries before we reach the conclusion. But there have been a few books that pleasantly surprise me with the ending.

These books were skillfully crafted and emotionally harrowing. They are the kind of books you immediately want to read again, and, in many cases, will instantly cause an addiction to that series or author.

I don’t want to give anything away or spoil it for you, so I won’t provide too much detail. Without further ado, here’s the list!

1. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
3. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
4. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
7. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
8. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
9. The House of Sand of Fog by Andre Dubus III
10. The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Favorites to Re-read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more! This week, bloggers are writing about the top books they’d like to re-read.

I rarely re-read books. There are hundreds–thousands–of book out there that I want desperately to read, and my bookshelves are lined with dozens of tomes that taunt me when I walk by. (In a good way. I think.)

However, every once in a while I’ll add a book to the Re-read pile. Sometimes the book utterly captivates me from start to finish, and I can’t wait until sufficient time has passed for me to pick it up again for a new take. Other times, it is only in retrospect that I realize how much I’d like to revisit a certain book.

10. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
I first read The English Patient on a masochistic whim. After graduating from college, I kept in touch with one of my literature professors. Feeling the weight of educational duty lifting from my shoulders, I was lost and confused, and asked him what he had his students reading that summer. I’m glad I did. This is a moving and timeless tale.

9. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
A friend of mine loved it because it combined San Francisco, real estate, and Persian culture–his three passions. I can’t say I found any of those particularly interesting–except, perhaps, San Fran–but the book instantly drew me in and broke my heart. This is a great modern story that has many unexpected twists and turns; I couldn’t put it down.

8. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
I read this book, along with Hesse’s Demian, to impress a boy when I was in college. It didn’t work, but I became a lifelong Hesse fan. For that, I thank him.

7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
For my nonfiction writing class, we watched a segment of the movie Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of this fascinating and idiosyncratic man got me thinking about the man behind the story. I immediately ordered the movie and re-ordered the book, which I read a few years ago.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Even more fascinating to me than Truman Capote is his once-dearest friend, Harper Lee. I have very specific memories of reading this book one summer in college. A serious relationship was in its death throes and I resolved to pick up on an old habit: reading the classics I was never assigned in high school. Unfortunately, now when I think of To Kill a Mockingbird, I think of my ex. That needs to change!

5. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
This is a book that I’ve read–and recommended–so many times, it’s beginning to lose some of its savor. A real shame, since this is probably my favorite book ever. I’ve even considered getting a tattoo of the final line of dialogue.

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I read The Poisonwood Bible several times in my early teens, hoping to soak up the magic of Kingsolver’s prose and to learn how to imitate, however crudely, her finely wrought characterization. Each time, I found some new gem. It’s due for another re-read now, and I’m curious to see what I think after more than a decade.

3. No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July
This is the finest collection of short stories I have ever read. July’s characters are eccentric but believable, wonderfully realized and endearingly fragile. One of the stories woke something very old and deep inside me that I never realized was there; that, to me, is the mark of unforgettable literature.

2. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Jack gave me a copy of Watchmen for the first Christmas that we were together. I read the whole thing in bed on New Year’s Day. In return, I bought him the fancy library edition, which has much bigger images with finer detail. (Unfortunately, it’s also very heavy, and impossible to tuck into my purse for my daily commute.)

I’m not saying it’s why I’ve stayed with him…

1. A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George R.R. Martin
Because everyone knows that this is the series that made me fall for Jack. He introduced George to me when we first started dating, and many of our earliest conversations revolved around Jon and Dany and Tyrion. I was pleased with the first season of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, but it only served to pique my interest in the series once more! This time, I’d like to try it on audiobook.

It’s interesting to see how many of these books bring up memories of old and new relationships. I suppose that’s fitting, since re-reading each of these books feels like visiting an old friend.

What about you? What are your favorite books to re-read?

Top Ten Tough Topics Tackled in Literature

This week, I’m highlighting some of my favorite works of fiction that address ten difficult social, cultural, and emotional issues. I’m sure I could think of many more books if I tried–“tough topics” are kind of my thing.

10. Bullying
Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is an excellent story about one girl who has the chance to change her life–in seven days. Oliver manages to take a self-centered bully and make her a completely sympathetic character by the end.

And I’ve mentioned before how much I love Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn; Hahn’s story of two girls forming an unlikely friendship is timeless.

9. Autism
Two books about autistic boys, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, take very unique views of what an autistic child’s world looks like, and both are very convincing in their own ways. Not much is known about autism, but these books are a reminder that “developmental” issues and genius are relative.

8. September 11, 2001
I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer in college, and it has stuck with me through the years. Oskar is an intrepid and smart narrator, and his efforts to cope with the loss of his father in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center are heartwarming and inspiring–and a tearjerker.

7. Poverty
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls manages to recount her rough childhood while avoiding any trace of self-pity. This book is a little dark at times, but I highly recommend it.

6. Aging
Anne Tyler effortlessly captures the minor details of a person that accumulate into who he or she is in her novels, and she does not fail me in Noah’s Compass. Liam, the main character, is confronted with an inevitable slide into old age, but the way he deals with it is charming and humorous.

Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is, of course, a classic tale of aging. The old man faces his greatest challenge, and summons the courage to triumph over it despite his acknowledged weaknesses.

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis is a rather unconventional entry for this category, but I found the book’s reverse-chronological order a fascinating study of memory and one man’s backward look on his life.

5. Racism
Often contested for its handling of race and slavery, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a humorous and satirical take on pre-Civil War society along the Mississippi River.

For a more modern exploration of African-American identity, struggles with racism, and the fight for civil rights, W. Ralph Eubanks’s Ever Is a Long Time is a fascinating read.

4. Addiction
I also mentioned recently that Go Ask Alice is one of my favorite books for its raw and unrelenting take on the rebellious life of a girl in the 1960s. It was recommended to a friend of mine going through rehab, and I can see why; the narrator’s battle with addiction feels very real in this fictionalized diary.

Addiction is just one of many serious topics to which Andre Dubus III turns his artistic genius in The House of Sand and Fog. Kathy, one of the main characters, finds herself returning to the addiction from which she had recently emerged when everything in her life seems to crumble. Yet Kathy inspires a great deal of empathy and even respect from her readers–a difficult but praiseworthy feat by Dubus.

3. Abduction
As abductions of young women sweep headlines–Jaycee Dugard‘s story is one of many in the past few years–I think we all crave insight into why such tragedies happen and how victims can survive them. And Emma Donoghue certainly delivers in Room, one of my favorite books ever.

But even fifteen years ago, I was fascinated with abduction stories. Caroline B. Cooney’s smart and courageous main character in The Face on the Milk Carton made a strong impression on me as a young reader–whenever I was scared that I, too, would be swept up by strangers (hey, I was only 11!), I just remembered how cool and level-headed Janie managed to be.

2. Rape
Push by Sapphire may now be considered a classic story of rape and incest. Sapphire handles these topics very well, pushing the reader right to the edge with graphic images and then pulling him or her back with Precious’s admirable determination and optimistic outlook.

Another book about the devastating effects of rape that left a strong impression on me is We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates’s prose meanders at times–I remember sighing in frustration as she spends an entire chapter chronicling the contents of the family’s cluttered hall–but her attention to detail pays off as she describes that family’s hurt and rage at the violence that struck once and left an indelible mark.

1. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There are several books about war and PTSD that immediately come to mind when I think about masterful attempts to address difficult subjects. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller are, of course, classics in this field. But more recently, War by Sebastian Junger and The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli have also proved to be stunning and delicate glimpses of the lasting effects of conflict.

What about you–what books do you think have handled difficult issues well?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!