Exile is threaded into your daily life long after you have become a citizen and pledged your allegiance and can make the best brownies in the neighborhood. I was compelled to make sense of my parents’ journey from Iran to America to understand the world they inhabited. Just five years shy of my mother’s age when she immigrated, I have to wonder if I possess a fraction of her will to start over at square one. Now that her tablecloth has been folded for the last time, the recipes are my only key to unlocking my parents’ experience as immigrants, looking back to see into their lives as I move forward into mine. It turns out, I don’t need to forget to move on. – from Maman’s Homesick Pie, page 6 –
Donia Bijan’s book is part memoir and part cookbook, a heartfelt examination of how our mothers and the love they serve up with our favorite foods become the inspiration for our lives. Bijan’s family fled Iran during the Revolution of the 1970s when Bijan was a teenager. Forced to leave behind everything, they began a new life in the United States. Bijan’s father was a renowned doctor who had opened a hospital in the heart of Tehran, while her mother was a talented nurse who later became a voice for Iranian women as an activist for women’s rights. When the Shah was overthrown, Bijan’s mother became a target for the new Khomeini regime.
My mother took on any establishment that did not give women a voice, and that was essentially every institution. If her drive had not coincided with that of a monarch who wished to modernize Iran rapidly, she most certainly would have been chided and silenced. But instead, she found the support and the blessings of Queen Farah. My mother found that she had a knack for politics and diplomacy, and soon she was on the boards of various organizations, fighting for women’s rights, becoming the director of Tehran’s first nursing school. – from Maman’s Homesick Pie, page 73 –
Maman’s Homesick Pie takes the reader from those earliest days of exile through the death of Bijan’s parents many years later, telling the story of Donia Bijan as she grew into a young woman enthralled with food and searching for her cultural identity. Bijan attended the Cordon Bleu in Paris despite her father’s disappointment that she would not pursue a career in medicine. Her mother’s support and the inner strength which she instilled in her daughter, were the motivation Bijan relied on to pursue her culinary dreams.
She believed a parent’s job was to provide love and security without staking any claims on a child’s future, that children owned their dreams, their mishaps, their triumphs, and their failures. – from Maman’s Homesick Pie, page 98 –
Later, after internships in France and working in a number of renowned restaurants in San Francisco, Bijan achieved her life’s goal of opening a French-inspired restaurant, L’Amie Donia, in Palo Alto.
Interspersed through Bijan’s memoir are wonderful recipes, some belonging to her mother, others those which she adapted as her own. Some of these are ones I will most certainly try myself: Orange Cardamom Cookies, Braised Chicken with Persian Plums, Potato Waffles with Creme Fraiche, and My Mother’s Apple Pie.
The book is filled with exquisite details of France, and mouth-watering descriptions of food. Bijan writes beautifully, capturing the nuances of what it is like to grow up in a foreign country while struggling to define one’s cultural identity. Her memories of her parents are often bittersweet, and her longing to memorialize her mother is evident.
When feelings well up from the past, a longing for a voice, a place, I reach for the manila envelope that holds her recipes. If I knew how to sew, perhaps I’d look through her sewing basket for the measuring tape, the velvet pincushion I bought her in Chinatown one Christmas, the buttons in the cookie tin. But I’m a cook, so I look at her recipes. – from Maman’s Homesick Pie, page 235 –
I enjoyed this earnest memoir with its peek inside a family who was forced to flee their homeland. Readers who enjoy the genre of memoir and who love food and cooking, will find much to appreciate in Bijan’s book.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher as part of BOOK CLUB and for review on my blog. Discussion of this book will take place on December 13, 2011 on Linus’s Blanket.
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