Thursday, August 16, 2007

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey

I’ve been trying to write about this book for days but couldn’t seem to summon the energy. Madhur Jaffrey is the author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. A leading expert on the cuisine of India, she’s written many cookbooks, and was the host of a BBC cookery show. (This is in addition to her long career as a film and Broadway actress.) Her cookbooks are written in an engaging style, and often include her memories of eating particular foods as a child in India. Thus, when I heard she had released a memoir, I thought it would be fun to read all these memories collected in one place.

This approach, however, proves to be too much of a good thing. It turns out she needs the piquancy of the recipes to liven up her prose, which in small measure is delightful, but in a book length format is a bit dull. It isn’t that I minded reading about life in the family compound, surrounded by siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and the endless descriptions of meals, holidays, and picnics. It just got a bit repetitive after a while. Jaffrey’s young life was fairly uneventful, though she did experience India’s independence from Britain and the chaos that followed. She writes about this in an understated way that is typical of the rest of the book.

If you are a big fan of her cooking and already have several of her books, you can skip this one, because there’s little that is new. The memoir ends with several family recipes, but again, most of these are available in her other cookbooks. However, if you’ve never read anything by her, and you enjoy gentle stories about India, you might like this.

(Book 36, 2007)


Anonymous said...

The only cookbook of hers I've tried was an old one a long time ago, and I wasn't incredibly impressed. I'll have to try a newer one at some point since I've heard great things about her cookbooks.

Becky Holmes said...

I have an earlier one too, and I think it is harder to use than World Vegetarian. The earlier one calls for too many unfamiliar ingredients, while World Vegetarian is a bit more accessible.

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