Photo: Strawberries and flowers in window
Author Donia Bijan evokes scenes of cooking in a French kitchen in her new book, Maman’s Homesick Pie.

Photograph by Ocean, Corbis

By Don George

Book of the Month: Maman’s Homesick Pie, by Donia Bijan

Acclaimed chef Donia Bijan writes at the beginning of her memoir cum cookbook, Maman’s Homesick Pie, that her mother, after she had moved to the U.S. in exile following the Iranian revolution, “had seen a vital connection between food and belonging.” Bijan has clearly inherited this connection, for her book illuminates three countries through cuisine, culture, and memory.

The first country is the surprisingly bountiful Iran, where she grew up. Bijan lovingly evokes the simple seasonal riches of her childhood home with tales of shucking beans and sorting through lentils at her mother’s side, and savoring family feasts of fresh-from-the-market tarragon and fava beans, lavash bread wrapped around sheep’s-milk cheese, and walnuts, carrots, and mulberries.

The second country is France, where she learned to become a chef. Her first lessons are as a student at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, where she practices classic dishes like roast rabbit with mustard and rosemary by day and everyday fare like potato cakes with muenster in her tiny maid’s-room apartment by night. Later she returns to apprentice at Michelin-starred restaurants, where food unfolds further revelations as she butchers ducks, deveins foie gras, and creates “velvet raviolis” filled with braised cabbage and frogs’ legs.

The third country is her adopted homeland, the United States. As the heartbreak of exile mixes with the exhilaration of freedom, mother and daughter discover a bridge to the past in the unexpected availability of familiar ingredients such as turmeric, fava beans, saffron, and feta cheese, and Bijan consummates her calling, concocting a signature multicultural cuisine.

Chapter by chapter, Bijan recreates the memory-menu of her life, incorporating recipes for the dishes that most poignantly capture the past for her. By its heart-plucking end, this literary feast accomplishes what only the best meals do, bestowing not only a satisfying culinary experience but also a larger appreciation of life’s precious table.

New Book Roundups

Asia Old and New

Amitav Ghosh’s new novel, River of Smoke, is a sprawling epic that tumbles from the Bay of Bengal to Canton, China, with a disparate group of characters involved in the mid-19th-century opium trade. In the novel Noon, Aatish Taseer elucidates life in contemporary India and Pakistan through the story of a son from a privileged family in Delhi who tracks down his wealthy birth father in Pakistan.

Peak Performances

In The Will to Climb, Ed Viesturs, the only American to ascend all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, recounts his single-minded attempts and eventual success in scaling Annapurna, the world’s deadliest peak. Wade Davis tackles the story of George Mallory’s conquest of Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, in Into the Silence.

Unusual Quests

In Amazing Adventures of a Nobody, Brit Leon Logothetis leaves his comfy desk job in London to travel across the U.S. on $5 a day, relying on the kindness of strangers. Richard Grant becomes the first person to chart Tanzania’s Malagarasi River in Crazy River. A divorced father and son journey to a Yukon bar that serves drinks anointed with a mummified body part in The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, by Ron Franscell.

One Last Thing:

Taking the High Road

As a longtime, long-distance lover of New York, I was especially delighted two years ago to discover the High Line, a gracious green pathway-park that runs through the West Side from Gansevoort Street to 30th Street. Since then, my triannual visits to the city have always included strolling some part of that imaginatively reinvented old elevated railway, and every time that wander has revealed some new wonder. I love the park, but I didn’t know the inspired and inspiring history behind its creation until I read the new book High Line. Through photography and commentary, authors Joshua David and Robert Hammond, founders of the Friends of the High Line, reveal the grassroots glory of the High Line’s story—and provide one more reason to love New York.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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