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A Memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber

By Simone Zarmati Diament

Diana Abu-Jaber
Pantheon Books
March 15, 2005/$23.00

A born raconteur, Diana Abu-Jaber writes in The Language of Baklava, her most recent book about a daughter learning from her father to understand, and eventually to speak, the universal language of food: "Memories give our lives their fullest shape, and eating together helps us to remember."

The Language of Baklava is a vibrant, humorous memoir about growing up with an American mother and a Jordanian father-both passionate about family and food, in which she tells of the richness and difficulty of straddling two cultures, each with its own book of codes unbeknownst to the other.

The best-selling author of Crescent and Arabian Jazz brilliantly turns her high-spirited and graceful storytelling skills on herself and her life. In The Language of Baklava her vivid prose seasons the core fibers of anyone who has experienced uprooting: from a neighborhood, a city, a country, a culture or a continent, with aching nostalgia.

In her family, cooking and eating are central to every gathering, and she weaves her story around the figure of her father, a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot who, while finding himself a foreigner in his own country, is quasi paralyzed with nostalgia and yearning for his past, only to head crash against reality whenever he attempts to return to Jordan with his American family in tow.

We follow her from upstate New York, where her father cooked up wonderful food for every occasion and tried to teach her "to be a good Arab girl," to Jordan where the family eats goat and rice mensaf with their fingers, "as the Bedu eat everything," back to New York for her adolescent years, and to the present day where she lives in both Portland and Miami, proving, "that she really is a bedouin by nature."

Each chapter is accompanied by mouth-watering, albeit not too precise, recipes from her dad's "Subsistence Tabbouleh" and "Magical Muhammara" made with pomegranate juice, to her mom's "Sentimental Hot Chocolate," to her aunt's "Poetic Baklava." She shares these meals with us and learn, as she does, as much about integrity, identity and love as we do about food.

Book Readings:
Thursday, March 31st, at 8 p.m. at Books & Books in Coral Gables, followed by Middle Eastern foods from the recipes in her book; and on Tuesday, April 5th, 4 p.m. at the University of Miami Follett's Bookstore.

About the Author:
Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of the novels Crescent and Arabian Jazz. She teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon, and Miami, Florida.

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