The Language of Baklava: a Memoir, by Diana Abu-Jaber (New York: Anchor Books, 2006; first published in 2005)
Diana Abu Jaber’s “culinary memoir” moves readers from her childhood to adulthood and between the cultures of her American mother and Jordanian father, with food, family, joy, and confusion pulling her, and us, sensually and insightfully along.
After growing up with Bud’s idea that Jordan is our truest, essential home, a part of me has come to believe it. My grant proposal describes a novel that I will write about characters undergoing ambitious self-excavation, recovery, and reconciliation as they move between countries. It is set in both America and the Middle East, and it is meant to draw together my own deep cultural ambivalences – to try to look right at the conundrum of being ‘Arab-American.’ Arab and American. But what I think is a project proposal is really the crude outline for the process I want for myself. Sometimes it’s too intimidating to look at things directly, to think, Now for the first time I will go to live in Jordan, I will choose it freely, and I will see if this place has anything at all to do with me. The airplane door ‘thunks’ shut for the last leg of the trip. As the plane taxis down the runway, the fear that perhaps I don’t belong in Jordan at all begins to fill me, overtaking my knees, my hands, my breath. It tightens like a net. I try to breathe deeply. There’s the sound of rustling paper. A woman across the aisle unwraps an elaborate portable meal of lamb, onions, squash. I inhale the scent of rice with fried nuts and cinnamon and feel calmer. – from The Language of Baklava: a Memoir, by Diana Abu-Jaber