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The Language of Baklavaby Diana Abu-Jaber
Synopses & Reviews
Diana Abu-Jaber's vibrant, humorous memoir weaves together stories of being raised by a food-obsessed Jordanian father with tales of Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts and goat stew feasts under Bedouin tents in the desert. These sensuously evoked repasts, complete with recipes, in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana's childhood — American and Jordanian — while helping to paint a loving and complex portrait of her impractical, 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.
The Language of Baklava irresistably invites us to sit down at the table with Diana's family, sharing unforgettable meals that turn out to be as much about "grace, difference, faith, love" as they are 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.)
"In a calorie-conscious era, where food is often seen as a necessary evil, Diana's celebration of food, its essences and aromas, its connection to family,is a refreshing reminder." KLIATT
"An enjoyable read with evocative descriptions of the immigrant experience and Arab American culture." Library Journal
"Food as a way to remember or a way to forget-either way, Abu-Jaber gets it just right." Kirkus Reviews
"Teens don't need to share Abu-Jaber's love of food to enjoy this story of family, love, and finding one's identity." School Library Journal
"Feasts and celebrations play a huge role, but this exquisite memoir offers much more to the discerning reader. With humor and grace, the author explores timeless topics of love, cultural adjustments and what being rootless means." Seattle Times
"[A] page-turner, but not in the traditional sense....It's more that the world described is so strange and sumptuous, the characters so large and comedic, and the descriptions of the food so enveloping and mouth-watering that you want to climb into this world and make it your own." Oregonian
Diana Abu-Jabers vibrant, humorous memoir weaves together stories of being raised by a food-obsessed Jordanian father with tales of Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts and goat stew feasts under Bedouin tents in the desert. These sensuously evoked repasts, complete with recipes, in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana's childhood-American and Jordanian-while helping to paint a loving and complex portrait of her impractical, 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. The Language of Baklava irresistably invites us to sit down at the table with Dianas family, sharing unforgettable meals that turn out to be as much about “grace, difference, faith, love” as they are about food.
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.
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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