Salty Memories Add Flavor to American Recipes
NEW YORK – Baklava language, a memoir by Jordanian American Diana Abu-Jaber takes readers into the world of an Arab immigrant family. It follows the author as she navigates between two identities in her endless search for a home.
Abu-Jaber travels back in time, marking the events of his life with his father’s recipes. From shish kabob to roasted fish with tahini sauce, Abu-Jaber is certainly not limited.
She begins the story with her childhood, living in Syracuse, New York. She is surrounded by her paternal cousins in nearby suburbs and visits her maternal grandmother in New Jersey and Manhattan.
When her father decides to move the family to Jordan, she learns Arabic, attends a Jordanian school, and makes Jordanian friends.
But his rhythm of life is disturbed when his father announces to him that he would return to Syracuse. It would not be his last gesture. Abu-Jaber tells the story of his dramatic geographical changes, from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood.
Through her writing, Abu-Jaber connects us with her, her family as if they were our own. We remember her father as he cooks, reminding young Diana of her roots, whether in suburban Syracuse, the rural neighborhood they moved to as teenagers, or Jordan itself.
Food was presented as a passion, a reminder and a coping mechanism for homesickness. Abu-Jaber ends each chapter with a recipe for his father’s home-cooked meals.
Readers learn to understand the importance of family gatherings and dinner preparations.
A recipe may be one of the few things that stays the same no matter where you are – a stability needed for sanity in a world of confusion and constant change.
Abu-Jaber experimented with his writing, attracting readers with varied interests. Whether you’re leaving home, forced to leave comfort once found, or just a food lover, Abu-Jaber touches us all.
In Baklava language, Abu-Jaber presents the complexity of human desires, needs and dignity. Living in both the United States and Jordan throughout her life, she takes us on an emotional roller coaster of loving and hating both.
The difficulties of integration and the difficulties necessary for her personal growth made her weaker and stronger simultaneously.
This book is an eye-opener in 24 chapters teaching children of immigrants the importance of knowing your heritage and background. It’s a warning of the destructive hell he’s taking us through. Do we choose comfort or growth? What should we really prioritize in our lives?
Abu-Jaber’s story isn’t just his – it’s his father’s, his mother’s and the world’s.
Illustrating what it is like to be torn apart, Abu-Jaber wrote: “I missed America for a year, I craved its shiny supermarkets and tidy drivers, its lavish cinemas and its bookstores, its rivers and curbs and everything about its sense of imminence – the sense of expectation, the urgency of rainy nights in town as traffic picks up and someone is going somewhere all the time. But when I return, I find I’m a child again, lying mute in an empty motel room searching for the old smells and sounds of my lost Jordanian neighborhood.
If you don’t know the feeling that defines the word, Abu-Jaber translates it in perfect sensory detail.
I swallowed this book whole, without leaving any crumbs. The taste of baklava is a community, a family, a home in all that is lost. This book is a friend when no one understands you. This book broadens your view of the world.
The language of baklava is an unforgettable learning experience and a valuable experience.
Malak Kassem is a junior reporter for Youth Journalism International.