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October 28, 2011

Book Notes - Donia Bijan "Maman's Homesick Pie"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Maman's Homesick Pie is one of the best food memoirs I have read. Truly an homage to her family, the book follows Donia Bijan from her family's early life in Iran to the United States to Paris for cooking school then back to the states to work as a chef. The recipes at the end of each chapter add surprising depth to her story, not unlike many of these Book Notes music playlist essays.

National Geographic Traveler wrote of the book:

"Chapter by chapter, Bijan recreates the memory-menu of her life, incorporating recipes for the dishes that most poignantly capture the past for her. By its heart-plucking end, this literary feast accomplishes what only the best meals do, bestowing not only a satisfying culinary experience but also a larger appreciation of life's precious table."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Donia Bijan's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen:

While working on my memoir, Maman's Homesick Pie, I found myself swinging back and forth in time, the past like a country spread behind me as I tried to recapture the girl I had been by returning to that street in Tehran where I grew up. The pendulum was swinging between regret for all that was left behind, and joy for all that's been found. The movement made me dizzy at first, until it became ordinary and necessary, and with each sway, I connected with a song.

"Bennie and the Jets," Elton John

America invaded my adolescent thoughts through music. My introduction came the summer of 1973 when my sisters, who were going to college in Washington, came home to Tehran with Elton John's Yellow Brick Road album wrapped in one of their college sweatshirts. They wouldn't let me touch it but they played it for me over and over again until it became our soundtrack for the summer of 1973. I begged for "Bennie and the Jets" because until then, I had never heard piano played so playfully. I associated piano with the stiff, joyless lessons I endured with Madame Sylvie and here was Sir Elton John, taking my hand and twirling me around the living room.

"Hotel California," Eagles

In 1977, a year before the revolution in Iran overturned our lives, I sat on the floor in my room every afternoon and did my homework to "Hotel California." Little did I know what the lyrics meant—to me it was about a nice hotel in California, a place I had only seen pictures of but would never have imagined would someday become my home. My best friend made me a tape and I rewound it one too many times until it unraveled, but by then it was playing in my head continuously.

"Travelin' Light," Billie Holiday

My real musical education began when I was a freshman at UC Santa Cruz. My teacher, a lanky, blond San Diego boy in my dorm who took pity on the single album I had leaned against my turntable (it was The Rolling Stones Some Girls). "That's it?" he asked. Some afternoons he would meet me after class and we would take the bus to Logo's, the used record store downtown, and he would walk me through the bins and pull out treasures. We found Billie Holiday's Lady in Autumn on an afternoon just when it started to rain. "Jackpot!" he yelled as we fished out crumpled one dollar bills from our back packs. Back on campus, we came in from the cold rain to a room where the radiator sputtered and while I made us tea with my electric hotpot we listened to "Travelin' Light."

"Revolution," Beatles

Another "Jackpot!" My teacher found this on his own one weekend when I had taken the bus home to see my parents. He had been pacing outside my room waiting for me to come back and you should have seen the glee in his eyes when he saw me. "You have to have this. This is it. We can stop after this!" I thought, "Yeah right." I loved "Revolution," the hopefulness in John Lennon's voice, but I cried for my country that had been duped, an entire nation fooled into thinking they could change their world.

"La Boheme," Charles Aznavour

After college I went to Paris to go to the Cordon Bleu cooking school. When you're twenty two and your dream is to be a chef and you find yourself on the streets of Paris, you better get down on your knees and kiss the ground. Writing about this moment, the morning of my life, with the freedom to be in charge of my own becoming, I looked for Aznavour. I worked for a French chef who used to play his songs for us and "La Boheme," all about youth, waiting for glory, skipping meals, staying up all night, was my favorite. The first few notes take me to the basement of the Cordon Bleu where I learned to beat egg whites by hand in an enormous copper bowl.

"Ne Me Quitte Pas," Jacques Brel

When you're working on a memoir, you inevitably unearth a sad love story. There simply isn't another song that can make me weep like this. I heard it the first time when I was falling in love and then when it ended and I was turned inside out. The lyrics "I'll offer you pearls of rain from countries where it never rains." and Jacques Brel whispering, "Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me." helped me hide and heal.

"Blue," Lucinda Williams

Finding Lucinda was my jackpot. I wondered right away how I had lived thirty six years without her. She sings like she's in my living room and I'm in the kitchen making us dinner. In "Blue," she sings: "Feeds me when I'm hungry and quenches my thirst." She tells me to live recklessly, to seize the moment, to make my own work.

Donia Bijan and Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

The Black Sheep Dances review
Books, Movies, and Chinese Food review
Jaclyn Day review
Melody & Words review
National Geographic Traveler review
New York Journal of Books review
The Novel World review
Peeking Between the Pages review
Publishers Weekly review
San Jose Mercury News review

The Almanac profile of the author
InMenlo profile of the author
Voice of America interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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