Recipes in Novels

Austin Clarke, Canadian author who was born in
Guyana explains slave food and other
mouth-watering recipes in this book.
Most authors will tell you that they have been asked the question, “Is your novel based on personal experience, or is it pure fiction?” 

I always find their answers intriguing.  I did not buy Queen of the Big Time, by Adriana Trigiani.   I got it from a book swap with a friend.  Guess what?  It has recipes.

The stories might be part fiction part reality, but recipes are real, because they force you to go to the supermarket or your garden, come back and cook up a storm.  That is why I like such books.

Queen of the Big Time reminded me of the African American author, Ntozake Shange.  She was very special to me because she was one of the first African Americans to adopt African names. 

Some of them regarded their names as ‘slave names’ because they were named by their slave masters.  Slaves were property, so their names had to reflect that.  Arabic names were also popular because famous people such as Mohammed Ali converted to Islam and adopted names from that religion.

I was interested in Ntozake Shange because the first and last names she adopted are Zulu.  Ntozake means ‘her things’ and Shange is a common Zulu surname.  She has recipes in her book, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, a story about three sisters growing up in the south, the relationship with their mother and leaving home.

Ntozakhe also wrote a play called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, which Tyler Perry turned into a film project.

My Year of Meat, written by Ruth L. Ozeki, has a cover you cannot ignore: a cow and two giant chopsticks.  It is a hilarious book about all sorts of things, including the madness of trying to co-ordinate one hundred and one things for a weekly television programme. 

I don’t know why I was disappointed that there were no recipes in the book.  Was it the title?  Anyway, My Year of Meat does have on small recipe in the first chapter.  It is an introduction to the main character Akiko, a Tokyo housewife who religiously watches a television programme about beef, because her husband works for the ad agency, hired by BEEF-EX, the client.

Mona Berman’s book, E-mail from a Jewish Mother does not have recipes as such, but she involves food when she reminisces about the life she had with her four daughters who now live in London. Perth, Venda and Durban.  She reminds them of stuffed kneidlach and chicken soup, carrot and prune tzimmes, meatless rossel borscht and more.

Shoba Narayan’s book Monsoon Diary also has recipes.  It is not a work of fiction.  It is about growing up in Coimbare India, where her grandparents lived, attending universities in the United States, getting married, basically her whole life.  I love the recipes in her book because I love cinema and always decry the lack of food in movies. 

Hollywood films are notorious for well-laid tables, glasses of water but no food.  Food is one of the reasons why I enjoy Chinese films where food preparation is part of the story.

I wonder if publishers still print fiction books with recipes.


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