Life from Scratch

by Sasha Martin
First sentence: “This is not the book I meant to write.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up from the Random House rep.
Content: She didn’t have an easy upbringing and she doesn’t hold back on that. But, other than that, it’s suitable for anyone who’s interested in a culinary memoir. It’s in the biography section (for lack of a better place; it also fits in our creative non-fiction, which is kind of a catch-all) of the bookstore.

I know I’ve told y’all how much I love foody books How much they feed my soul, and how, when they’re wonderful, they just make me happy. Last time our Random House rep came to the store, he held this one out and said it’s a food memoir, I snatched it. I took too long getting to it, though: it wasn’t until it actually came in (the actual cover is so much more appealing than the ARC cover, trust me) and I actually read the first sentence, that I knew I would love this book.

Sasha had a hard life. Seriously. The daughter of a single mom struggling to get by in Boston, she and her older brother, Michael, didn’t know how hard their life was. They had Mom, they had each other and as far as they were concerned, things were good. Then the state decided that what they had wasn’t enough, and sent them into the foster system. Which, in the late-80s, was a terrible place to be. Sasha’s mom, however, was — is — an incredibly concerned and passionate person, and she fought to get them back. However, the state (I can see people’s objections to the state here) deemed their mother unfit, and decided that the kids needed to be raised elsewhere. Sasha recounts her mom sending out tons of letters, looking for a home for her children. And it was an old friend and her husband who took on the burden of raising the children.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with food? Well, the one thing that kept Sasha going throughout her life was a love of food and cooking. Her mother is Italian and Hungarian and she believed in the power of community coming together to eat, so very early on, Sasha helped out in the kitchen.

Her years with the friends weren’t happy. She missed her mother. Her brother committed suicide. Which propelled Sasha into a life of drinking and drugs and avoidance. The upside was that the family moved to Europe, so Sasha was exposed to culture there. So, when she finally landed on her feet, after years, in Oklahoma (I’m condensing here; there’s a lot going on), she decides that what she needs to do is cook her way around the world.

Sasha’s a compelling writer, telling her story with love and understanding, when no one would have faulted her for being bitter. She was angry at her mother for years, but somehow forged a new relationship with her. And I loved how this city girl found solace in a smaller community, finding the interesting and unique things about Tulsa. (She actually made Tulsa sound like a pretty cool place.) But the best thing, hands down, about this was the food. Sasha has a way of making the food leap off the page, of capturing not only the flavor of every day dishes, but also of the exotic ones she made from around the world.

It’s a delightful book, one that I’m sure will stay with me for a long, long time.

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