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The Persia Cafe Paperback – February 11, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (February 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312289162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312289164
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,031,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"To the tables I hauled more fried chicken. More baked ham. Delicate corn pudding," says Fannie Leary, the narrator of Neilson's richly rendered debut novel, as she describes her work cooking and serving her neighbors. Like the caf of its title, the narrative serves up old-fashioned fare, and lots of it, lovingly prepared. Persia, Miss., is a classic small Southern town, and the story Neilson tells is heartbreakingly familiar, depicting the death throes of the Jim Crow South. In the summer of 1962, Earnest March, a young black man, is seen driving away from his white girlfriend, who is clearly upset, and all the men in town take off after him. They report that he got away, but some days later, Fannie discovers his body floating in the Mississippi. Just who is responsible for Earnest March's death is clear, even to Fannie, but how that murder changes Fannie and the town, whether anyone in her own family was involved and whether guilt can be proved are mysteries that Neilson artfully develops. All this is narrated in sensuous and vivid prose: a cook's hands are "yellow-gloved in cornmeal"; first sex leaves a young woman thinking of "salt and green onion." However, as Fanny remarks, "There is a narrow moment between ripeness and rot," and Neilson's sentences sometimes ripen beyond clarity. Moreover, the engine of plot often kicks in too noisily. But Neilson lavishes such attention on the town and its people that she captures something precious: the feel of a culture at a particular time and the ineffable moment a heart changes. Agent, Nina Graybill. (Jan.) Forecast: Neilson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir, Even Mississippi, is poised to break out with her fiction debut. Initial interest will be fostered by the book clubsDThe Persia Caf is a Literary Guild dual main selection and a Doubleday Book Club featured alternate Dbut Neilson's genuinely appealing tale should also generate word-of-mouth sales.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The subject matter of this debut novel by the author of the 1989 memoir Even Mississippi is reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying. A town in Mississippi is rocked to its core in 1961 when a young black man is found murdered, washed up on the river's shore. Fannie Leary, the white owner of the town's only caf , discovers the body, but when she brings the sheriff back to the scene, it has disappeared. Fannie struggles to reconcile the expectation that she keep silent with what she feels she owes to Mattie, her black cook and cousin of the murdered boy. The story comes out, the FBI comes to investigate, and the white community whose balance she has disrupted shuns Fannie. This is a powerful story of the toll of racism, of the relationships between people of different races, and of events from our past that come back to haunt us. Woven throughout are references to Fannie's love of creative cooking. Neilson has written a compelling story that will leave the reader wanting more characters like Fannie. Recommended for all public libraries. [A Literary Guild main selection and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate.]DKaren Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, N.
-DKaren Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It is rare to find a story, let alone a first novel, written with such depth of feeling, such suspense and characters whose lives are so carefully illustrated to bring them alive. If Amazon readers enjoy Persia Cafe as much as I did, word of mouth will quickly make Melany Neilson's novel a bestseller. Persia Cafe was impossible to put done. At first the appeal is the character development and the first glimpses of Fannie Leary's life in Persia, Mississippi. Then, in a very subtle way, you are slowly drawn into the complexities of a southern town faced with love and hate, naivete and wisdom, and much more. Don't miss this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a story about a young woman who is determined to do the right thing. It takes place during the 60's in Persia, Mississippi and captures the feelings of that particular time -- specifically racism, ignorance, and people uncomfortable with the idea of change. It is about murder, violence, betrayal, innocence lost, and ultimately redemption.
I felt for Fannie's situation throughout this book. It pained me when the people of her community shunned her, and I was grateful she used her culinary talents as an outlet from their ugliness. Also, the friendship between Mattie and Frannie was depicted so well -- it perfectly captured the underlying tension present in their interactions with one another.
I cannot help but think of Harper Lee's, "To Kill A Mockingbird," after reading this book. Like it, "The Persia Cafe," is a fascinating glimpse into a time and place I know little about. And, both tell the story about the sacrifices we sometimes must make in order to do the right thing.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roger on March 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I'm not the world's fastest reader, so when I encounter a book with the dialogue and style of writing like this one, I sometimes will become frustrated at the length of time devoted to complete. Melany Neilson, from what I understand, is a poet who has written her first novel. The writing style clearly shows and can be very difficult. I read another review where the reader didn't get past page 60. I almost gave up on this book at page 80. I'm extremely glad however, that I did not. Even though the language of the book is challenging, the descriptiveness and language used, is extremely beautiful. This kind of beauty takes time, and you may find yourself putting in more energy into this book than the sleeve of the book indicates what might be a simple story. I have to admit however, that I did take a break and read another book halfway into this one, before I finished. I overall rated the book a 3, only because of the challenging style. Believe me, the ending, the entire story, as it all falls together, does take some time, but is well worth discovering. The bond between the two main characters, Fannie and Mattie is strong, fragile and yet special. I disagreed with another commenter that the reader couldn't quite decipher the relationships that Fannie maintained, that is of her husband Will, and between her mother. I'm not from the south, but I quickly characterized all female characters as the strong southern woman. I didn't find any of the female characters to be "warm and fuzzy", or particularly inviting, and maybe this was misread and misinterpreted. There is no doubt that the relationship between Fannie and her mother, with Mattie, are not warm. But a mutual respect and love exists, especially between Fannie and Mattie, that even Fannie cannot sometimes understand.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What is it about the South that evokes such powerful stories? Melany Neilson is a very talented writer, but I think even she would have to admit that living in the South offers so much to authors, that all they have to do is pay attention. Although Persia, Mississippi is fictional, it really isn't. It is every small town in Mississippi that I have ever been through. Having lived in Mississippi all my life, Persia just makes sense. I know those people. I have been in that cafe. I have stood on the banks of that river. And although I think that many things have changed for the better, I have also seen those looks on faces, both white and black. I have, at times, sensed the tension and distrust among people who have shared this geography for years and years.
The wonderful thing about this novel, however, is that the reader doesn't have to be from The South to appreciate the rich language and beautiful images. You can smell the fried chicken and biscuits whether you're in Jackson, Mississippi or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You care about these people, wherever you happen to fall in relation to the Mason-Dixon line.
I love Southern writers. I think that they are special, and offer something to the world of literature that nobody else can. Hats off to Melany Neilson. You were fair, and honest, and respectful in your attempt.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on February 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
Taut, languid and ominous, Melany Neilson's "The Persia Cafe" is a remarkable debut novel. Treating the theme of interracial friendship during the formative years of the civil rights movement, "Cafe" explores the corrosive impact of racism through the evolving relationship between two honorable, frustrated women. Uncommonly understated, Ms. Neilson's writing compels the reader to construct detail, both in the evolution of the plot and the impact of events on the two protagonists. The novel builds an almost unbearable tension as the reader struggles with such issues as constructing authentic relationships in a social milieu which limits and punishes their creation, the limits and consequences of knowledge, personal and social respnsibility for acts of violence, passion and betrayal, secrecy and its impact on how people respond to each other.
Shackled by societal restrictions, frustrated by personal disappointments and angered by repressed ambitions, the evolving relationship between Fannie and Mattie becomes the central focus of the novel. Fannie, aware of her heritage as the illegitimate daughter of the town's seamstress, yearns to escape the suffocating constraints of Persia, Mississippi, which in 1962, epitomizes southern rural racism. Fannie's personal alienation and harnessed hopes for freedom channel her into the kitchen, where she learns of her culinary gift. In her hands, food becomes transformed into art. Yet, this same burning drive for experience that elicits creative talent leads her into an ill-conceived and fractious marriage.
While in the kitchen of the Persia Cafe, Fannie encounters a defiant, proud black cook, Mattie.
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