Diana Abu-Jaber has a lot to say about her life.
She’s already written an excellent memoir of her Iraqi-American family, The Language of Baklava. Her second memoir, Life without a Recipe (W.W. Norton 2016), is equally fascinating and delicious. It is full of the coming of age story, her loves, her losses, and the growing self-awareness of a writer – and what she eats along the way. It is the combination of food and family that makes this book such a good read:
Soaking in advice, awash in it. I become infected with second-guessing; instinct floats like a thread on the surface of the eye, all decisions are fraught. I’m told to be brave and free, to write fearlessly, live independently. But then again, be careful, careful, careful. Advice is offered like food from the hand- a loving, unwanted gift. (p. 27)
A gift that is, nonetheless, given over and over again throughout the book. The voices of Diana’s father and grandmother rule. They are contradictory, and it is her aim to navigate between them.
Grace had been dead for seven years, but they were still fighting. I got up from my table, as I did each morning and turned down the volume of the machine to a sub-satellite stream of advice. Then, a hunt through the freezer for breakfast ice cream: bowls of rocky road or chocolate with peanut butter cups, preferably capped with dollops of whipped cream. This as the subversive breakfast I’d picked up from Gram, who’d fixed us eggs, bacon and sliced cantaloupe, but only when our parents were around. (p. 78)
And what’s Bud’s breakfast?
All grudges are soften by the approach of dinner. Those who labor with Bud in the kitchen are joined in a confederacy¬–cooking restores us to our senses. But Saturday breakfast is a profusion: the sizzling morsels of lamb on the fava beans, diced tomato, celery and onion on the hummus, tidy half-fried eggs bundled around their yolks. We hurry to sit and then spend half the meal begging Bud, “Come to the table. Sit down. Sit.” Always, he wants to slice one more cucumber. (p. 16)
There are two Graces in this book, but perhaps there are more. It is an apt name. But who would want to give it all away?
Get Life without a Recipe, read about Diana’s life, and revel in her love of food, family, and writing.