Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
by Donia Bijan
Algonquin
2011
272 pages

Available September 20, 2011

Heartfelt, deep, moving, and full of warmth, Maman's Homesick Pie is a serious find for book lovers and foodies of all ages. Donia Bijan is today a well-respected American chef who has worked in kitchens all over France and San Francisco before opening her own world-renowned bistro. But where did this culinary dynamo come from? Who influenced her to seek a career in a field that was so closed off to women and who encouraged her to seek a spot at Paris's famed Cordan Bleu under the tutelege of Madame Brassart, the dragon master chef who taught none other than American food icon Julia Child?

Luckily, Bijan was brought up by a strong Iranian mother and father. Her mother had a voice in government in Iran during the reign of the Shah, but after his fall in 1978 and with the infiltration of militant religious sects, Bijan's entire family is forced to flee Iran, never to return for fear of death. On a holiday in Majorca, Bijan's family listens to reports of increasing violence and bloodshed at home,and after receiving a harrowing late night call from their uncle, they realize that they cannot go back home. The family gets visas and travels to the San Francisco Bay area where other relatives have already settled.

Bijan's mother easily fits into the California lifestyle in no time. Having attended boarding school in England as a girl, she speaks fluent English and has a nursing degree. It's not long before she has a full-time job at a hospital and soon she's picking up extra hours to help fund Donia's education in France. While her mother assimiliates easily, Bijan's father finds America a horrible place. He can't practice medicine because he can't get over the language barrier, so he can't pass the medical boards. He becomes increasingly depressed and irritated, blaming everything bad on his wife and his daughter. He longs for his homeland where he was a respected doctor with his own hospital. Eventually, he returns to Iran and his beloved hospital without his family.

Donia escapes to Paris to learn to cook the French way. She is charmed by spices and has been in love with food since a young age. Her mother, besides being a nurse and raising a family, made aromatic dishes like Fava Bean Omelet, Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant, and Quince Marmalade. Donia still remembers the scents of Persian cooking from her mother's kitchen in Iran: the saffron, cardamom, tarragon, shallots, poppy seeds, Persian figs, pomegranates, and clementines.

This novel is, above all, a love story. It is the story of a mother's love and undying, unwavering faith in her daughter. Because her mother loved her and pushed her, Donia Bijan excelled in the culinary world and fulfilled her dreams. When her father thought cooking was a terrible fate for his daughter, her mother saw how much it meant to Donia. Her mother never made light of cooking as a career and respected her daughter's life choice. It is the love a mother gives that forever influences the life of her child.

Maman's Homesick Pie is a beautiful tribute to Donia's mother and her Persian recipes. Each chapter is followed by one or two prized recipes from Bijan's mother or from Bijan's culinary days in Paris and San Francisco. The food dances off the pages and readers will savor the flavors and textures of the dishes as described by Donia. This novel makes me want to try all kinds of exotic fare.

A delightful book that will stay with readers. Food lovers, cooks, and wannabe cooks will love this book. Book clubs are likely to choose this as a great read this fall. Put this one on your list. Young foodies ages 12 and up will likely fall for this book as well.

Recommended for adults and younger foodies. Teens who love "Master Chef" and "The Next Food Network Star" will probably love this book and learn a lot about cooking by reading it. This is a great book club novel.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not received any monetary compensation for this review.

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