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Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Burnt Bread and Chutney (book review)

Here's a good example of a memoir that goes into dimensions far beyond a simple story of immigration from one country to another. The author writes:
"From the outside, no matter what the gradations of my mixed heritage, the shadow of Indian brown in my skin caused others to automatically perceive me as Hindu or Muslim. . . . Still, I trekked through life with the spirit of a Jew, fleshed out by the unique challenges and wonders of a combined brown and white tradition."
This is a multidimensional synthesis of culture and historical roots. Here's a really quick review I wrote when it was published, hoping to steer readers toward a very dfferent kind of book, one I found utterly fascinating and very moving...

Burnt Bread and Chutney: Growing Up Between Cultures-A Memoir of an Indian Jewish Girl by Carmit Delman (2002)

In a readable, often-poetic style, Delman shares a highly personal story of youth, adolescence, and inner discovery amid the "eclectic, often eccentric potpourri of cultures" that formed her.

The author's mother was born into the Bene Israel community, a small group of Jews who lived near Bombay. This community is said by some to have migrated to the Indian coast even before the destruction of the Temple, and (though it has been fast disappearing since the creation of Israel and the migration of its population to that country) for centuries continued in its isolation to practice ancient traditions predating the development of law that defines other Jewish communities.

The author's grandmother (who had a particularly problematic marriage, under Bene Israel custom) emigrated with her daughter (the author's mother) to Israel. There, Delman's mother met and married her father, an American Jew of Eastern European descent. They moved to the US, where Delman was mostly raised -- but she also chose to spend summers on a Kibbutz in Israel. Her nuclear family was strong and supportive, but a scandal in her grandmother's generation continued to divide her maternal relatives in subtle, destructive ways that the author only gradually came to understand.

Delman manages something that few writers can do: bringing the reader sympathetically into the turmoil of her own complicated, rebellious, experimental adolescence. She tells of her alienation from mainstream American Jewish culture because of racial differences and economic inequalities. She describes her heavy-metal teenage rebellion in 1980s' America, and follows that up with a clear account of a confused yet liberating time of experimentation during her college years.

But at the heart of Delman's story is her Indian Jewish grandmother, beloved Nana-bai, a remarkably courageous woman who negotiated even more hazardous terrain. Her unimaginable life is revealed through a journal she left behind (and through her granddaughter's empathetic insight), as Delman reconciles her own identity with that of her grandmother's. And ultimately, this is the treasure the memoir offers: the discovery of truths not owned exclusively by any culture.

(adapted from my SLJ review)
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For a much more detailed review, I highly recommend this one: http://www.kulanu.org/links/burntbreadchutney.php

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