by Donia Bijan
First sentence: “My mother had been dead eight days when I showed up in her kitchen.”
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This book is very much like a gumbo: it needs a little bit of everything to make it work. It’s one part cookbook — every chapter has a couple recipes from the kitchen of world-class chef Donia Bijan; one part memoir — it’s nominally Bijan’s story from Iran to France to the kitchen of her own restaurant; but also one part love story to her mother.
Bijan grew up in Iran, the third — and last — daughter of a doctor and a nurse. She was privileged there, going to a private international school, enjoying holidays on the Caspian Sea. Her family was on vacation in Spain when the revolution happened in 1978, effectively cutting them off from their country. For Bijan, her sisters, and her mother, this was a hardship, but also an opportunity: they emigrated to America, and took to their new lives. For her father, however, this became an obstacle that he never surmounted.
He also had issues when Bijan decided to major in French in college with the express goal of going to France to learn to be a chef. Her mother, on the other hand, supported her wholeheartedly. This was where the book fell apart for me. Her memories of childhood were sweet, and even her life in transition was interesting. However, by the time she got to France to learn cooking, I began to wish that there was more to this book. It felt like she was brushing over everything lightly, not wanting to deal with the negatives, or even with the hardships, not thinking about anything too much. All this is well enough, but I wanted more: more feeling, more depth, more descriptions of food, more of her life.
While I found it a pleasant homage to her mother and the way she supported Bijan in her endeavors, there wasn’t quite enough in it to make this book anything more than “nice.”