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The Language of Baklavaby Diana Abu-Jaber
Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Crescent, called “radiant, wise, and passionate” by the Chicago Tribune, here is a vibrant, humorous memoir of growing up with a gregarious Jordanian father who loved to cook. Diana Abu-Jaber weaves the story of her life in upstate New York and in Jordan around vividly remembered meals: everything from Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts with her Arab-American cousins to goat stew feasts under a Bedouin tent in the desert. These sensuously evoked meals in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana’s childhood–American and Jordanian–and the
richness and difficulty of straddling both. They also bring her wonderfully eccentric family to life, most memorably her imperious American grandmother and her impractical, hotheaded, displaced immigrant father, who, like many an immigrant before him, cooked to remember the place he came from and to pass that connection on to his children.
As she does in her fiction, Diana draws us in with her exquisite insight and compassion, and with her amazing talent for describing food and the myriad pleasures and adventures associated with cooking and eating. Each chapter contains mouthwatering recipes for many of the dishes described, from her Middle Eastern grandmother’s Mad Genius Knaffea to her American grandmother’s Easy Roast Beef, to her aunt Aya’s Poetic Baklava. The Language of Baklava gives us the chance not only to grow up alongside Diana, but also to share meals with her every step of the way–unforgettable feasts that teach her, and us, as much about iden-tity, love, and family as they do about food.
"Abu-Jaber's father, who periodically uprooted his American family to transplant them back in Jordan, was always cooking. Wherever the family was, certain ingredients — sumac, cumin, lamb, pine nuts — reminded him of the wonderful Bedouin meals of his boyhood. He might be eating 'the shadow of a memory,' but at least he raised his daughter with an understanding of the importance of food: how you cook and eat, and how you feed your neighbors defines who you are. So Abu-Jaber (Arabian Jazz; Crescent) tells the charming stories of her upbringing in upstate New York — with occasional interludes in Jordan — wrapped around some recipes for beloved Arabic dishes. She includes classics like baklava and shish kebab, but it's the homier concoctions like bread salad, or the exotically named Magical Muhammara (a delectable-sounding spread) that really impress. While Abu-Jaber's emphasis is on Arabic food, her memoir touches on universal topics. For example, she tells of a girlhood dinner at a Chinese restaurant with her very American grandmother. Thanks to some comic misunderstandings, the waiter switched her grandmother's tame order for a more authentic feast. Listening to the grandmother rant about her food-obsessed son-in-law, and watching Abu-Jaber savoring her meal, the waiter nodded knowingly at Abu-Jaber. 'So you come from cooking,' he said, summing her up perfectly. Agent, Joy Harris. (Mar. 15) Forecast: Readers who enjoyed Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone or Patricia Volk's Stuffed will devour Baklava." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Abu-Jaber's early life seemed defined by the rites and rituals of cooking andeating and she weaves her charming story around vividly remembered, sensuallydescribed meals.
Diana Abu-Jaber's early life seemed defined by the rites and rituals of cooking and eating and she weaves her charming story around vividly remembered, sensually described meals. We see her in upstate New York, where her extended Arab and American family gathered around her father's grill for great shish-kebab cookouts. We see her at the age of nine, after her father moved the family back home to Jordan, learning both the language and the cuisine while feasting on goat under Bedouin tents in the desert. We see her in New York a year later, learning to be American again, balancing servings of kibbeh with equal numbers of grilled Velveeta sandwiches. And each scene from her life is accompanied by recipes for the delectables described, from her aunt's Mad Genius Knaffea to her American grandmother's Easy Roast Beef to Poetic Baklava. The Language of Baklava tells a story about the richness and difficulty of straddling two cultures, about cooking and eating and finally, about a gregarious, impractical, complex man who taught his daughter to understand and to speak, the universal language of food.
About the Author
Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award and was named one of the twenty best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor, and Arabian Jazz, which won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland and Miami.
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