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Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family Paperback – October 22, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Patricia Volk's enchanting memoir nails both 20th-century American life and the glorious eccentricities of her relatives with the gift for vivid detail of a fiction writer. (After all, she's published one novel and two short-story collections.) "Our hallway was the color of ballpark mustard. The living room was cocoa, my mother's wall-to-wall, iceberg green," she tells us. Volk begins with her adored immediate family: charismatic father, hypercritical but loving mother ("Mom made me, and now she will make me better"), and older sister Jo Ann, best friend and occasional mortal enemy. But they're only the beginning, just as the garment-district restaurant that rules her father's life is only one of the family achievements. Great-grandfather Sussman brought pastrami to the New World. Grandfather Jake, a demolition expert, was profiled in The New Yorker. "Everybody did one thing better than anybody else. Aunt Gertie sang the works of Victor Herbert. Aunt Ruthie mamboed. Granny Ethel braked with such finesse it was impossible to tell the moment the car went from moving to a stop." Of course, perennially negative Aunt Lil embroidered a pillow with the motto "I've Never Forgotten a Rotten Thing Anyone Has Done to Me"--but maybe she was embittered by the fact that Uncle Al slept with her for 11 years then refused to marry her because she wasn't a virgin. (She sent out wedding invitations anyway, and he fell in line.) All these great stories are arranged along a casual chronological arc ("from Sussman Volk in 1888 to Cecil Volk in 1988"), but nothing is ever really finished. Her father closes Morgen's in Manhattan; her sister's husband opens a trendy food shop in Florida. "We're still feeding people," Volk asserts. Readers will find her prose as delicious as family housekeeper Mattie's chocolate cake. Recipes included. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a restaurant family "[y]ou're never full, you're stuffed," says Volk (White Light). But her delightful memoir is not so much about food as about family "your very own living microcosm of humanity, with its heroes and victims and martyrs and failures, beauties and gamblers, hawks and lovers, cowards and fakes, dreamers, its steamrollers, and the people who quietly get the job done." In a series of vignettes remarkable for their humor and insight, she portrays her father's father, Jacob Volk, who invented the wrecking ball and made a fortune in the demolition business; her mother's father, Herman Morgen, who opened a sandwich shop on Broadway and eventually owned 14 restaurants in New York City; and her mother, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. There's plenty of eccentricity Uncle Al slept with Aunt Lil for 11 years, then didn't want to marry her because she wasn't a virgin; Aunt Ruthie gave a burglar who took her hostage in her Bronx apartment a meal and a lecture. But the real charm of the book is in Volk's evocative descriptions of everyday life in a Jewish family in New York. She works magic with such mundane subjects as a visit to Uncle Al the endodontist, dieting, the housekeeper's cleaning habits, her parents' decision to be cremated. A short description of a sleepover at her grandparents' house speaks pages about Herman Morgen and his wife, Polly; Aunt Ruthie's speech patterns are immortalized in a few choice sentences; a disquisition on handkerchiefs and "hankie behavior" is a small masterpiece. This bighearted book will make readers want to look at their own families with fresh eyes. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)Forecast: Expect healthy sales, especially with a first serial in O.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Printing edition (October 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724992
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #642,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The earlier reviewers have one thing about right--this book is a lot more than a semi-food-based memoir about growing up Jewish in Manhattan in the middle of the last century. It's really about nearly everybody's family: the terrific characters, the loonies, the distinguished, the pathetic--you name it, they're in the book. Volk's style is an amazing balancing act, dancing between opposites. Sometimes when you're expecting a laugh you get a tear, or vice versa, or both at once: her farewell to her dying beloved father is so absurd and so moving that you'll never forget it. (Or his ashes, which of course get caught in an ocean gust and blow all over his children.) For my part I was often laughing at the parade of eccentricities when I remembered again how every family I know is like that: outsized in a way, outlandish in a way. Among Volk's other virtues, I don't know another writer who has so subtly and ruthlessly and hysterically exposed the small casual meannesses we tend to visit on the people we love. And still the book is full of love, running over with it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
Patricia Volk's memoir, `Stuffed' is much less a culinary memory than it is a recollection of what, to some readers, may seem like a simultaneously wise and dysfunctional Jewish-American family which happened to be instrumental in the shaping of the Jewish delicatessen in America.
When I picked this book out to read, with it's title and photograph of the giant Morgan's restaurant dining room on the back cover, I was expecting something like Ruth Reichl's two memoirs. This book is different in many regards, although it has its own charm making it equally worthy as a light read.
The first difference is that there is very little in the book about food itself. The blurb by Eli Zabar, who may have known the family business better than he knew the inside of the book, reinforces the impression that the book is about food. The book is simply about people whose business happened to be food. The fact that the author is a writer of fiction rather than a culinary journalist should have been the clue that gives away the game. The chapter titles, named after major foodstuffs (including bacon, of all things for a Jewish family) maintains the ambiguity long into the middle of the book. I kept looking for the recipes (not really).
The second difference is that the book is much less about the author (and her parents) than it is about the entire Volk / Morgan / Sussman / Lieban vereinshaft (extended family in Yiddish).
Three themes permeate the book. The first is the success at various endeavors, primarily the building demolition business and the restaurant business of various male family members. The second theme is the great beauty of the women in the family. One look at the photo of the author is enough to get the sense of the quality of the Volk / Lieban genes.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ellen on November 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Volk dazzles! It is hard after reading such a perfect book to adequately sum up its thorough brilliance my own words. In Stuffed, you will glean lasting images of characters you grow to care about with deep tenderness. And this fondness grows exponentially with each page as Volk introduces you to all the wonderfully complex characters who sit around her dining room table. Through the aperture of food and family, Volk's endearing vibrant words resonate even when you're not reading and make you smile. Life is that much richer after knowing the beauty, love, loyalty, and wild idiosyncrasies that bind her family. I loved with them, I laughed with them, I cried with them, I wanted to know them. It's the kind of book I want my friends to read so they can know them too. Other than praise for the author, all I am left saying is, "Patricia Volk, can I have seconds?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on October 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Quite an interesting story of a Jewish family through about 3 generations. There conquests, accomplishments, and contributions to the "new country". A story of sibling rivalry and the sweet, obnoxious family bickering. I almost hate to say this, but this story brings back memories of a few of our family reunions.
I enjoyed this book because it's so very relatable and fun to read. If you come from a big, close family that swaps ideas and shares laughter as well as tears, you will definitely enjoy this novel.
And, if you're in the restaurant business, why wouldn't you always be "Thanksgiving Day" stuffed?!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tana Butler on November 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I have consumed "Stuffed" so greedily that I read the entire thing in one day--it was a binge of wonderful reading. Every single page was filled with the kind of language I love best: people, nuance, food, relationships, history, and a sense of place.

It's like sitting with someone in my own family and looking at scrapbooks and photo albums. I keep hearing, "Tell us again! Tell us again!" as I turn the pages.

I love this book. I read passage after passage out loud to my husband--there are so many little nuggets of information and entertainment. Patricia Volk is a wonder. Oh, what a sweet book, and what inspiring writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nancy R. Katz VINE VOICE on June 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I LOVED THIS BOOK. And when I think of why I did there are several reasons. To begin with I also grew up in Manhattan like Ms. Volk and lived next door to and around the corner from my large multi-generational Jewish family. Like Ms. Volk I can also remember leaving for camp via Grand Central and shopping at now defunct NY stores like Best & Co.with my mother. I might also have loved this book because for close to 40 years my father was in the catering business and I too can remember our food being delivered and that general feeling of being stuffed. And wasn't I surpirsed as I read this book that I even knew a couple of people the author wrote about in this wonderful memoir. But most of all I loved this book because it brought back to me many of my childhood memories and a way of life which I remember and is now sadly gone as we grow up and our world today is so differnt from the way it used to be. No matter what the reason, though, I lapped this book up and gulped it down. And now I keep suggesting it to everyone who will listen to read this book because as much as this is a New York tale, I think it has a broad appeal for readers everywhere who enjoy the story of a family not only devoted to the restaurant business but to each other as well.
Like Ruth Reichl's two memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, the author has done a fine job of describing her family, the restaurant business and her own accomplishments. This book was a pleasure to read and now I say Bon Apetit to you Ms. Volk. I know I will read this book again and again and and will savor it a bit more each time.
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