Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan
The book opens with Bijan packing up her mother's kitchen after her death. Her mother was a strong, spirited woman who grew up in Iran and was educated in England. She arrived in England at eighteen, knowing only two words in English. But, she returned to Tehran as a registered nurse and midwife. It was there she met her husband, an obstetrician who built Bijan Hospital in 1960. They ran the hospital together, lived on the property, and raised three daughters. Bijan celebrates the beauty of that life, and the luxury and freedom the family enjoyed under the forward-looking Shah. Her mother had strong political views and "Took on any establishment that did not give women a voice, and that was essentially every institution. In the early '70s, she won a seat in parliament, and fought to build schools, roads and clinics for her constituents."
In the summer of 1978, when Donia was fifteen, the family was on vacation in Majorca when the demonstrations against the monarchy began. They were told not to come home because they would have been executed. Donia's older sisters were already in college in the United States. Donia followed, to go to high school there, and a year later her parents moved to Fresno, California, where they had family and friends. It was a move that destroyed Donia's father, but further empowered her mother, who quickly adapted to life in the United States, including learning to cook Thanksgiving dinners and apple pies.
Donia Bijan tells this story using food an an ongoing theme. She was raised in a culture where food was cherished. Her father always selected local food when they traveled, and her mother celebrated all occasions and friendships with food. It was natural for her to want to cook, but even that was a move her father objected to, while her mother encouraged her in her dreams.
This is Donia Bijan's memoir, the story of her childhood in Iran, her life in the United States, and her culinary training in France. It's the story of an Iranian American learning to blend three cultures into her food and her life. But, it's also a tribute to her courageous mother, a woman who discovered her own independence in England, fiercely fought for other women in Iran, and arrived in America with little money, but her own passion for life. It's the story of a woman who fought for her children to live their dreams, even when it meant opposing her own husband.
Bijan's descriptions of food and family are beautiful, laced with passion and love. Donia Bijan's Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen is the story of two women who shared a love of food, courage when it came to their dreams, and a love of family. Family, dreams, strong women, wonderful food. It's a memoir to be savored.
Donia Bijan's website is www.doniabijan.com.
Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in An American Kitchen by Donia Bijan. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2011. ISBN 9781565129573 (hardcover), 254p.
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