Title: Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
Author: Donia Bijan
Release date: October 11, 2011
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:
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October 28: Peeking Between the Pages
October 31: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
November 1: A Bookish Libraria
November 3: Mockingbird Hill Cottage