Friday, October 16, 2009

Book Review - American Cookery by Laura Kalpakian

Book Cover

From the Publisher:
High-spirited Eden Douglass is born into a contentious California clan full of headstrong women who vie for her loyalty. The Douglass women are known to borrow trouble as well as time and money. As a child, Eden’s hungers are satisfied with merely having enough to eat.  As an adult, her appetite for adventure leads her to serve on the European Front, to elope to Mexico with a charismatic film maker, and become a producer in the golden age of television. Eden’s life is seasoned with a rich cast of lively characters. All have stories. Some have legends.

Each chapter is followed by a recipe. Readers can share and savor Emotional Cornbread, Book Club Gingerbread, Parti-Colored Salsa, Figs Napoleon, Stella’s Sauce and Ginny Doyle’s Cowgirl Chili.   American Cookery celebrates those women and men whose cooking forges connection across time and miles and through generations.

Animated as a family reunion, intimate as a lover's picnic, American Cookery is a novel to relish and share, satisfying stories in many flavors, and one woman’s journey through tumultuous times.
One of my mother's friends loaned this book to me, along with a few other books she thought I might be interested in reading. I had not heard of this book and have not read any of the author's other works, but decided to give it a try. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable novel.

The first thing in the book that stood out was the recipes. I thought the placement of the recipes was such a unique and rich way to pull the story together. Much of Eden's life ended up revolving around food--having enough food to eat as a child, her aunt's food as a comfort, and eventually her own cooking as a way to support her family. The recipes weren't just afterthoughts, either; the recipes were thoughtfully tied to the events or the people of that chapter. Each recipe had a special emotional angle to it. I have not endeavored to actually cook any of the recipes (I'm honestly not much of a cook--it takes a special occasion to take me out of my comfort zone), but this would be such a fun read for a book club! Getting together to discuss the book could be a great occasion to have members make and bring in some of the recipes from the book.

The second thing that struck me about this book was the author's descriptive skill and character development. There were times when I wanted to grab Eden by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, but her hang-ups were so typical of a woman in love that it seemed all the more realistic. I thought the storyline was believable, and I found myself wondering if any of the locations and people in the book were based on actual people or if it was all a product of the author's imagination. Either way, it was a pleasurable read that I enjoyed very much.

Rating: ★★★★ 4/5 stars

Book Details:
Laura Kalpakian. American Cookery: A Novel. St. Martin's Griffin, 2007. 432 pp. $14.95. ISBN 978-0-312-34814-4



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