29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2001
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
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. The third theme is lack of logic in some of the family members' life choices.
If you love reading about people who simply had a very full life with the intensity one may find in fiction but with the added cachet that this was all real, this is a book for you.
By the way, there are two recipes on pages 80 and 81 for chocolate cake and icing.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2001
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?
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2001
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?!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2001
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2001
I am 46 years old, third generation garment manufacturer, and grew up with Morgens being my all-time favorite restaurant. Cecil was a fantastic host, who entertained me with jokes, whenever I went in with my Father, and Uncle. Audrey was a beautiful woman, who did a great job helping to run the place. My family ate there at least 3 times a week for lunch, and often entertained customers, after work for drinks and dinner. When I visited from school, I always ate lunch there, with my favorite waiter Gus. This book brought back very fond memories, and I was especially touched by the chapter of Cecil's death. When Spring comes, I will go look for his bench. Great job!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2002
It has been a while since I have read a book as warm and uplifting as this one. The flyleaf for "Stuffed" is misleading; you initially think you are reading a book which will focus on the tribulations of a restaurant family. However, while incorporating many recollections of the varied members of her family in the New York restaurant business, this transcends that guild. "Stuffed" celebrates a fascinating family, and radiates pride and love, while noting with humor the petty differences that kept family members apart.
This is a visit to a distinctively New York Jewish family and reflects the special closeness, unwavering love, and the paramountcy of family in that culture. This is both a touching and an inspirational book. You will feel better for reading it, and be left with quite an admiration for its quite admirable author.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2003
I knew I was in for a tasty treat when I saw that Patricia Volk's genealogical chart of her family contained annotations like "Best Legs in Atlantic City, 1916,""Brought pastrami to the new world," and "first man to carve meat in a window." I imagined that someone who felt whimsies like these were the most important facts about her relatives would be very entertaining to read.
As I expected, Volk describes her family with warmth, wit, and affection always, and with wistfulness when required, each member getting his or her own charming chapter. She is clever with descriptions that make sly reference to the family restaurant business ("our hallway was the color of ballpark mustard..."). I especially liked her stories about her rivalry with and love for her sister; even as adults Volk flew across country just to feed her sister after an operation (and then squabbled, of course, like sisters do!)
However, it is not an industry expose, as some readers might have hoped. It is a family history first and a `restaurant' book only secondarily.
The only thing that kept me from giving this book my total endorsement (and thus five stars rather than four) is that this seems to be a facelift-and-fur-coat sort of family, which mine is definitely not. Thus there was a limit to how much I could identify with them. If this would not happen to you, you should consider it a five-star book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2002
As a deli owner's daughter with a big quirky family of my own I was predisposed to love this book before I even turned the first page. Patricia Volk shows us that life is really in the details as she paints vivid, strikingly honest, funny and always loving portraits of her immediate and extended family. She also captures and preserves for us a time and culture in New York City that is fading into memory. Her stories about her family's elders makes you want you want to reach back into the past and pull forward all the grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers who've left us already, so that they can walk through our lives and down the streets of NYC
one more time. Her chapter about her father's illness and death will resonate deeply with anyone who has accompanied someone they loved through the process of dying. My mother always said "As long as you can laugh and cry at the same time you know you're OK". This book strikes that balance beautifully.