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The Language of Baklava: A Memoir 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375423048
ISBN-10: 0375423044
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Abu-Jaber's father, who periodically uprooted his American family to transplant them back in Jordan, was always cooking. Wherever the family was, certain ingredients—sumac, cumin, lamb, pine nuts—reminded him of the wonderful Bedouin meals of his boyhood. He might be eating "the shadow of a memory," but at least he raised his daughter with an understanding of the importance of food: how you cook and eat, and how you feed your neighbors defines who you are. So Abu-Jaber (Arabian Jazz; Crescent) tells the charming stories of her upbringing in upstate New York—with occasional interludes in Jordan—wrapped around some recipes for beloved Arabic dishes. She includes classics like baklava and shish kebab, but it's the homier concoctions like bread salad, or the exotically named Magical Muhammara (a delectable-sounding spread) that really impress. While Abu-Jaber's emphasis is on Arabic food, her memoir touches on universal topics. For example, she tells of a girlhood dinner at a Chinese restaurant with her very American grandmother. Thanks to some comic misunderstandings, the waiter switched her grandmother's tame order for a more authentic feast. Listening to the grandmother rant about her food-obsessed son-in-law, and watching Abu-Jaber savoring her meal, the waiter nodded knowingly at Abu-Jaber. "So you come from cooking," he said, summing her up perfectly.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A coming-of-age memoir about seeking identity through the foods of childhood. The daughter of a Jordanian father and an American mother, Abu-Jaber was raised in upstate New York but spent long periods of time in Jordan. Her Middle Eastern grandmother's knaffea and her American grandmother's roast beef helped her bridge both worlds. The author peppers her story with recipes for the foods that have formed her, and with recollections about her eccentric family. Her father carried her over his shoulder as he cooked onions for the meals that helped him remember his origins. Her American grandmother, always at odds with her son-in-law, cooked a huge ham when they first met, not realizing (or perhaps knowing all too well) that Muslims don't eat pork. Not all of the memories associated with food are pleasant. Abu-Jaber experienced her first dose of prejudice when her father, unaware of suburban traditions, grilled shish-kabob in the front yard. On the bus to school the next day, a friend informed her, …in this country nobody eats in the front yard….If your family doesn't know how to behave, my parents will have to find out about getting you out of the neighborhood. Perhaps her most memorable meal was in a Bedouin camp. The tribal women tried to entice her to stay with them rather than return to the U.S. as they scooped mensaf, a goat dish, into their mouths. Teens don't need to share Abu-Jaber's love of food to enjoy this story of family, love, and finding one's identity.–Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (March 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375423044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375423048
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diana Abu-Jaber's latest novel, Birds of Paradise, won the National Arab American Book Award and was named a top book pick by the Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Tribune, and the Oregonian.

Her previous Origin, is a literary psychological thriller which has received starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist and won the Northwest Booksellers Award.

Her memoir-with-recipes, entitled The Language of Baklava, was a Border's Original Voices selection and was included in Best Food Writing 2005. It also won the 2006 Northwest Booksellers' Award.

Her novel, Crescent (W.W. Norton), won the PEN Center Award for Literary fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. It was also named a Notable Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor. Her first novel, Arabian Jazz (W.W. Norton) won the Oregon Book award.

Abu-Jaber currently teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A lovely book, reminding me somewhat of my own childhood and my over-the-top overprotective father. The descriptions of her family's meals are incredible. I found myself rushing to make the recipes, looking forward to enjoying devouring them as I read, like I was sitting at the table with the author.

One of those books that you think, "Ok, it's late... I'll just read until the end of this chapter," then you don't put it down.

Well, if you're a foodie daughter of an immigrant like me, anyway.
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Format: Paperback
Reading The Language of Baklava, I felt like I'd stepped into a 'lost world'-- the rich memories and sensations and stories were outstanding. This is my favorite kind of book, the kind that I have trouble finding any more, where I feel like you enter the heart and mind of a life and a place. I will never forget this book.
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Format: Paperback
This is a great story - Abu-Jaber shares beautiful stories of growing up with a Jordanian father and an American mother. As someone close to Middle-Eastern expats, I recognised a lot of the feelings, emotions and social situations she describes: the longing for a long lost country that is one embellished from childhood memories, the importance of food as a source of comfort and a way to bring continuation to a new lifestyle in a foreign country, the importance of family, the unity between a family that is scattered around the world but whose heritage keeps them together. I thought it was very enjoyable and entertaining. It should be especially interesting to people interested in Middle-Eastern culture and those who are or know any expats/immigrants like Abu-Jaber's father. For a deeper and less light-toned stories, I also recommend Crescent, or West of the Jordan.
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Format: Hardcover
The author's memoir, The Language of Baklava, is as rich and full-bodied as the pungent recipes that are peppered throughout the book, both sweet and spicy, a peek into bi-cultural life that is amusing and heartwarming. Abu-Jaber infuses her memoir with the joy of family and the love of food, meals shared with many because "you never know who's just come over from the old country". The old country being, in this case, Jordan.

Her two novels, Arabian Jazz and Crescent, are filled with the kind of colorful personalities, both Jordanian and American, who have filled Abu-Jaber's life, the author drawing inspiration from a unique assortment of extended family and friends. In this flavorful book, she tells her own story, growing up a child of two cultures. Moving from America to Jordan and back, the young Diana absorbs everything around her, the people, events and aromatic dishes prepared by her father. She speaks to a personal experience of cultural ambiguity as a schoolgirl in America, with a father who has his own ideas about the behavior of adolescent daughters.

Throughout, the author gathers the reader in, introducing her extended family in all their glory and eccentricity. The Abu-Jaber's are as generous and expansive as they are unconventional, drawing outsiders into their circle, unable to resist the tempting aromas that waft from the home. In one scene, the children are allowed to stay up all night on New Year's Eve. As the parents gather to talk of old times, the children enjoy their own adventures, let loose upon the midnight landscape, their imaginations wild with abandon until, one by one, they fall into sleep, exhausted by possibilities.

Food, family and celebration go hand in hand, the rich tastes that bring back memories of Jordan, the flavors of home.
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Format: Hardcover
Normally, I wouldn't want to give autobiographical information when writing about someone else's work. However, it's necessary for me to give some of my own background in order to explain my responces to Ms. Abu Jaber's memoir/cookbook.

I grew up in Oregon with an American(Scots-Irish/Norwegian) mother and an Arab (Palestinian-Israeli) father. So, while I wouldn't claim that my life has mirrored Diana Abu Jaber's background, I would say there are a lot of similarities.

Much of this book rings true. The overprotective father. Family grudges and gossip. Relatives crisscrossing the ocean. The audience for the "The Bold and the Beautiful" (an American soap opera) that you find in the Middle East. Immigrant parents who want all their children to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Taboos against dating. The expectations to marry someone who is also Arab, even if your own mother isn't. You get the idea.

One chapter that sticks out to me is "Immigrants' Kids". One part of it describes the nostalgia that a dish of stuffed cabbages (a popular arab dish) can bring. Reading it almost made me shed a tear because it reminded me that its been a long time since I've had stuffed cabbages.

Like Diana, I also had a father who wished to move the family back to the Middle East. Like her, I also fought with my dad over this happening. I admire her for writing about such a conflict because it can still be painfull for me to recall such old disagreements.

If there is a line that I felt summed up the book's theme it is when a friend of Diana's asks: "How come my father never cooked me any eggs?" Of course Diana's father has cooked her eggs and plenty more.

In my opinion, this is a book about family love.
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