The Lost Ravioli Recipes Of Hoboken: A Search For Food And Family – Laura Schenone
Genre: Food, Food memoir, Real life, Non-fiction, Memoir
This is a book that I coveted for a long, long, long time, and got as a surprise birthday gift from the husband, a couple of years ago. I ended up reading it only now – I really don’t know what kept me from reading it all this while. Sadly, though, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had thought I would.
Laura Schenone – food writer, blogger, mother and wife – is a good cook herself, but she cannot cook wonderful ravioli, the way her Italian great-grandmother would. This realisation sets her on a quest to find the recipe for the exact recipe for ravioli that this ancestor of hers made. It isn’t a very easy task, though – most of her ties with the Italian side of her family are either broken or strained. Laura is determined to get the recipe, come what may, even if it entails a trip (or two) to Italy, even if the quest doesn’t really make sense to her husband, even if it puts her personal relationships under stress. The Lost Ravioli Recipes Of Hoboken is Laura’s recounting of the little steps she took towards this end.
Parts of the memoir are very beautiful, I have to admit. The passages where the author tries out ravioli in Italy, musing about whether her frugal great-grandmother would have used this ingredient or that, are very touching. Her pondering about the history of certain foods is brilliant and thought-provoking. Her quest for unique, regional dishes and extremely local ingredients is admirable – I must say it alighted in me a similar passion.
That said, the author’s quest did seem to be quite obsessive in some respects. I couldn’t really understand why she made things so difficult for herself at certain points. Also, the memoir seems to go round and round, each relative of hers suggesting a possible change. In the end, there is no conclusion, I felt – no firming up of facts, no ‘real’ recipe in hand.
Overall, The Lost Ravioli Recipes Of Hoboken is a book that I entered into with a lot of expectations, which weren’t, sadly, met. There are some really good bits in the book, though, for which I’d suggest you to read it.
The Twentieth Wife – Indu Sundaresan
Genre: Historical fiction
What a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous book!
The Twentieth Wife is set against the backdrop of Mughal-era India, when Akbar is ruling, and Salim is but a mere prince, a little boy. The book opens with a description of how fate brings Mehrunnisa, the baby daughter of a Persian refugee called Ghias Beg, to Emperor Akbar’s realm, too. Mehrunnisa and Salim grow up in the empire, each leading a life the other has no clue about. Well, Mehrunnisa has heard of Salim, of the riches of Akbar’s court, but that is that. She is intrigued by him because he is the son of someone so majestic as the King of India, but Salim has absolutely no inkling of her existence.
As the book progresses, the reader gets to know how the grown-up Salim meets the grown-up, now extremely beautiful, Mehrunnisa, a meeting ordained by fate. They fall in love with each other then, but fateful events keep them from marrying each other. Salim and Mehrunnisa’s love for each other sustains, though, and they do end up getting married, towards the fag end of the book. Mehrunnisa is the twentieth wife to Salim, who has several marriages for the sake of the empire’s politics. Salim’s and Mehrunnisa’s is a very different kind of marriage, one forged by love, in an era when princes weren’t supposed to marry for anything but the benefit of the empire.
The Twentieth Wife is a very beautifully written book, and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading of it. I drew out my reading of the book over the course of a month, savouring it little by little, because I didn’t want it to end. It is difficult to say where fact begins and fiction ends in this story, but I can tell you how compelling a read this is. In spite of being quite a long book, I was captivated from the first page to the last, entranced by the workings of the court, heart all mush at the beautiful love between Salim and Mehrunnisa, who later becomes known as Noor Jehan.
It has been quite some time since I completed this book, but thoughts of it still linger. I am still caught in the wonder that was Mughal-era India – I’m still in Mughal-era hangover, if you may. If you haven’t read this book, I would urge you to do so. You will surely fall in love with it, too, I’m sure.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them?
What are you reading at the moment?