“I hungered for compassionate stories that reveled in taste, whether savory, bitter, or sweet – stories that used food as a conduit for unearthing memories.”
And so, with that goal in mind, Natalie Eve Garrett reached out to a variety of award-winning authors and asked for essays on how food helped them through the hard or happy times in their lives. “Eat Joy” is the result of her request and an enjoyable trip into these author’s worlds.
Each essay starts with a biography of the author and a list of their literary awards. The list is impressive. There are Pushcart Prize winners, O. Henry Award winners and a Pulitzer Prize winner. The authors represent a wide variety of cultures from around the world: America, India, Korea, Persia, Africa and more, which means their stories have a lovely international flavor to them. In all instances, they relate the good times and the bad times and the foods that shaped their lives. Each essay ends with a recipe. It could be something as complex as Alexander Chee’s Korean Dak Dori Tang or as simple as Anthony Doerr eating raw brownie dough.
What makes these essays so compelling is that they are not necessarily about the food itself but a beautiful weaving of the author’s memory and the food that is a part of that memory. Diana Abu-Jabar “Leaves” ties in the flight of the Palestinian’s in 1948 with her own flights and migrations. The food of her ancestors plays a part in how she views her own home. Rakesh Satyal was bullied as a child which compelled him to perfect the art of baking pies. (“Bake your Fear” gives us a delectable sounding Blueberry Pie recipe that I plan on making this weekend). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s heartbreaking story of Fide, the family houseboy, provides a glimpse in Nigerian life. Darin Strauss introduces us to his family in “The Dinner” along with a classic East Coast recipe for cod fillets.
Each author learns something about themselves and happily passes that lesson along to us. Laura Van Den Berg writes “learn to offer sustenance to yourself and to others in a time of crisis or really at any time at all” to her “goals for being an actual adult list.” Claire Messud’s mother blithely remarks, “There’s so much of life to get through, once you realize that your dreams won’t come true,” and so decides to enjoy the small pleasures in life. Messud sees that “life’s significance lies chiefly in those small pleasures, and her (mothers) example is wiser that I once understood.” And Kristen Iskandrian’s love of pickles helps her see that “… friendship, at its best, is also fermentation, a commingling of histories and bloodlines, a ripening of self.”
“Eat Joy” is a delectable book of essays that are not only easy to digest, but provide nourishment for the soul. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
Happy reading to all!