“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

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.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Maman’s Homesick Pie for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

And 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

13 replies »

  1. Dear Ms. Donia Bijan, I am a friend of Mrs. Homayoon Sobhani. Her son was a high school classmate of yours and I heard about you from Mrs. Sobhani. I too left Iran as revolution was to start. My father’s factory in Tehran was eventually taken over by the government and we had to make ends meet here in U.S. Now my son 26 years old is about to start his baking business. He loves Chelokebab and Pastry. Your book would be so nostalgic to me and such an inspiration for him to read. You could be a mentor and someone to give him hope that he should pursue his dream of owning his baking business and be an entrapreneour like you. We would appreciate so much if you would pick us to win a copy of your book. I praise you for where you came from and where you have gone. May God’s blessing always be with you and your family. “BE OMIDEH DIDAR” , “KHODA NEGAHDAR”. Kathy Feredjian (973) 492-2421


  2. Yum, this book sounds delicious and nutritious. One of my favorite books of all time is Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl ( I also liked her follow ups to Tender) and I love to eat while I read so reading food writing is okay with me! And I love the qoute you chose to highlight above…my mother is getting older and that quote is proving to be true in my own experience. Thank you for a great review.


  3. This is hilarious:”Don’t read this if you hate: Food and/or family” LOVE IT!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being on the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.


  4. Thanks so much for the giveaway! I LOVE foodie memoirs, and this one sounds amazing! And with recipes? Yes, please! lol

    jesse.nicole.paul (at) gmail (dot) com


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