Tasting Home, Judith Newton's ragout of a memoir is as complex as the pages-long, multiple-step, Filet de Boeuf Braisé Prince Albert recipe found at the end of Chapter 17. Her dysfunctional relationship with her mother weaves through the book and connects with an ongoing cooking theme that encompasses cuisines from around the world. A contorted relationship with her first husband, commencing in the mad, passionate sixties at Berkeley, winds through deep depression, women's lib and gay lib, divorce, ongoing connection, and more. Career and motherhood add even more to the stew. An eclectic collection of theme-related recipes anchoring each chapter is replete with preparation instructions and should delight the most demanding foodie.
Perhaps because of the complexity, I am still not clear on the ultimate point of the story. Four themes stand out: love can persist through thick and thin (in spite of obstacles and ignorance); persons with Newton's passion for feeding people are desirable friends; her career achievements are stellar; and the kitchen, which stood as a barrier between Newton and her mother, now bonds her with her daughter.
The book covers much ground and several decades, so it moves quickly and sometimes seemed a bit disjointed, and while the recipes were a novel touch, at times the attempt to weave them in seems a little forced. But if you love food and cooking, and enjoy complex stories of unconventional love and life styles, this is the book for you.
Judith Newton is Professor Emerita in Women and Gender Studies at U.C. Davis, where she directed the Women and Gender Studies program and also the Consortium for Women and Research. She is the author and co-editor of five works of nonfiction, covering nineteenth-century British women writers, feminist criticism, women's history, and men's movements.
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