BOOK CLUB – Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan

Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing about Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan which was published by Algonquin Books.

About Maman’s Homesick Pie:

For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.

From the Persian world of her youth to the American life she embraced as a teenager to her years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (studying under the infamous Madame Brassart) to apprenticeships in France’s three-star kitchens and finally back to San Francisco, where she opened her own celebrated bistro, Bijan evokes a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures and cuisines. And she shares thirty inspired recipes from her childhood (Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant and Orange Cardamom Cookies), her French training (Ratatouille with Black Olives and Fried Bread and Purple Plum Skillet Tart), and her cooking career (Roast Duck Legs with Dates and Warm Lentil Salad and Rose Petal Ice Cream).

An exhilarating, heartfelt memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie is also a reminder of the women who encourage us to shine.

Here are a few of the reviews from BOOK CLUB participants.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page, and check back throughout the day as more questions are added to the post.

Let’s go!

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you find the title to be an appropriate one for the memoir? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
  • Before you started reading Maman’s Homesick Pie, how familiar were you with the Islamic Revolution in Iran? Was your understanding furthered by reading this memoir?
  • Bijan’s relationship with her father was affected by her choosing a different path in life, how do you think things might have been different for the family had they stayed in Iran?
  • Whic recipe were you most likely to try and which do you think you’d be leat likely to try? Which foods and recipes from your past have the strongest connections to your family?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB Picking Bones From Ash, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

12 review copies of Maman’s Homesick Pie were provided by Algonquin Books in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you so much!

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  1. I really enjoyed Maman’s Homesick Pie overall, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. Evidently the problem is that I didn’t read the description closely enough, or at least in enough proximity to reading the book, because I think it describes pretty clearly what you actually get, but based on the title I expected the main focus to be Bijan’s family, rather than her own path to the culinary arts. What the book actually is is great, but just not quite what I thought I was getting. I think the idea in my head appeals to me somewhat more than someone’s path to becoming a chef, but there was just enough of Bijan’s family, and their experiences fleeing Iran and adjusting to a new way of life to keep me happy.

    I was glad, when reading, that I have a fair amount of familiarity with the Iranian revolution, because it is discussed in Maman only in fairly broad strokes, although I think Bijan does a good job giving enough information for background so readers will know why her family had to flee, since the revolution itself is clearly not really the point of her book.

    The question of her life path had her family stayed in Iran is a fascinating one, and a difficult one to answer. Are we assuming the revolution didn’t happen? Bijan clearly thinks that she would have basically been forced to follow in her father’s footsteps, but if Iran had continued to modernize and push back against tradition, who knows? After the revolution, both paths might have been impossible to her.

  2. One of the things that interested me, that she didn’t go into enough detail about was the revolotionary work that her mom was doing with the women. That took me a little bit by surprise because I don’t think it had been mentioned before. All of a sudden the friction between her parents popped up in the story, and up until that time I had though they had an ideal family, and worked together pretty happily.

    Without the revolution, I just don’t see that she would have been able to break out as she did. It interested me that she felt so much guilt at the fact that she left her parents so quickly when she had the opportunity. I guess I am so used to people here thinking that teenagers are selfish and don’t necessarily think about their parents as much as they could, but when I try look at it from a different lens, I am surprised both by the fact that she left and that they let her leave.

    1. I agree, Nicole – I was very interested in her mother’s work for women…I would have liked to know her in real life!

      Re: the guilt about her leaving her family – I wonder if that is a bit cultural. Don’t Iranian families put a high value on children staying and helping parents? Especially girl children? I have a feeling that her being able to leave to go to school in the US was in large part facilitated by her mother who I think wanted her daughters to have advantages in the future.

      1. I agree with you that the writing was beautiful and very evocative. I often felt like I was right there in the room with her family, and having those meals, but there were quite a few things that I wanted to know more about and that I felt she just sprung on the reader. I’m not sure why she made the hoice to have somethings so vague. Maybe she mainly wanted to concentrate on the food and her memories of fisrt having the recipes, but those odd jumps took away a bit from the experience.

        I kind of got the feeling, from what she said, that her parents were in shock and didn’t put up much of a fight, moreso than it seemed that she pushed for her to go anywhere. It was also interesting that she came here and put on so much weight from the American way of eating.

        1. I wondered if the discord between her parents was left out of the earlier moments of the book because she was capturing her experience from a more child-like perspective? As if she became more aware of the family tensions later on.

            1. That could be, but even taking that into account, it just seemed rather abrupt. While she may not have been fully cognizant of what the fighting was about as a child, it seems she would have remembered some arguing or something. Her mother seemed pretty important in what she was doing. Like Jen said, that didn’t seem to be the story she wanted to write, but the little peeks into the other existence were a little clumsy in an otherwise beautifully written memoir, and left me wanting more.

              1. I felt that maybe she did not go into great detail during the skimming areas of the book as to maybe protect her family – and also because she wanted to stick to her story and her journey to becoming a chef. It may have been easy to go off in a different direction with the book then what she had intended.

                This has probably already been said 🙂

    2. There were a lot of things that were sort of glossed over and that she didn’t go to in detail. I had to try hard not to be disappointed about some of them, because, again, the more in-depth family history is the book I would have rather read, but it isn’t the book she intended to write.

  3. I really enjoyed this book – I though Bijan wrote beautifully, capturing the scrumptious flavors of her culture and showing us the strength and inspiration of her mother. I probably would have gravitated toward this book even without BOOK CLUB because I love food and I love memoirs.

    I think I have a fair knowledge of the Islamic Revolution because of other books I have read set in that time period, but this book gave me something I did not have – the glimpse into how it changed individual lives forever. Donia’s father essentially lost his profession; her mother had to recreate her family and adapt to a completely foreign culture; and Donia forever felt dislocated from her roots (although she was able to connect with those roots by integrating them into her cooking).

    I thought the title captured the essence of the memoir because I believe it was Donia’s mother who inspired her to become what she did…in fact, I found her mother to be amazing (I would have liked to know her)…she was an incredibly strong woman who supported her daughter emotionally to follow her dreams.

    Bijan’s relationship with her father was an interesting one – I don’t think he ever really understood who she was as a person and that was painful to her. Like Jen, I am not sure whether staying in Iran would have led her to being a doctor – in fact, life for women in Iran declined under Khomeini and they were not permitted to follow career paths as before. I also don’t think she could have followed her dreams to be a Chef. I think, had the family stayed in Iran, Bijan’s life would not have been so rich.

    The recipes I think I would be most likely to try are: Orange Cardamom Cookies, Braised Chicken with Persian Plums, Potato Waffles with Creme Fraiche, and My Mother’s Apple Pie. I don’t think I would be likely to ever make Duck L’Orange! Our family has strong Swedish roots and so the foods that are most memorable to my childhood include Swedish meatballs, cardamom braid holiday bread, and scalloped potatoes with ham….and lots of butter LOL!

    1. Donia’s culinary journey is certainly inspiring and beautifully written, but I’m even more inspired by the tales of her mother. I have so much respect for women who are wonderful mothers and also courageous, generous citizens unafraid to challenge and change their communities. It’s given me pause to wonder what things about me my children will remember and be inspired by down the road. I kind of hate to think about them drawing too many conclusions from my recipes though (at least not what I serve to my three semi-picky-age-five-and-under eaters these days).

  4. I would have read it without the suggestion of the book club. This is because I always love to read about other countries. I also love reading recipes in a novel. I like heroines who find joy in cooking.

    1. I definitely would have read this without book club, because I absolutely love reading about food, and her childhood memories were fascinating. She is an excellent writer.

      1. I have enjoyed quite a few memoirs by chefs and food critics this year, I would have read this one – in fact I had it on my radar before it came on as the Book Club read – that was a happy plus!

  5. The title of the novel did shape my thoughts. From the title I could tell the author had a love for her homeland and culture. I think the word “Homesick” is a wonderful hint. The use of “Mamita” also spoke to me. Made me think that there was a love even of her language. Just from the title I thought of the novel as a love story about a place.

  6. I remember the Shah of Iran and all of the uproar from newscasts. I remember the people in the streets. I remember Khomeni, the religious leader. I think American POW’s were taken by the Iranians at that time. I also had read one of my favorite books Reading Lolita in Tehran. I think that book is sooooo good. From it I gained a lot of knowledge about the way women were treated during this period in Iran. I gained a sympathetic feeling for the women and how difficult it is to meet in a personal home, at a university and/or just to think or by gollee paint your finger nails or date a guy. Yes, I gained more knowledge from Donia Bijan. I like to read more than one book about a culture. One book, than another book just adds to a steeple of knowledge. You can never know enough about a place where you haven’t lived. One book on a subject just isn’t enough. Usually, reading one book makes you yearn for another book about that particular culture.

  7. Life definitely would have been different for Donia Bijan. She would never have gotten the chance to live out her passion. She loved cooking. I remember her carrying her knives down the street like they were small precious gods. Also, she would have never gotten the chance to travel to other countries and meet other people. She would have missed the chance to learn the feeling of true democracy and making personal decisions without a man tyrant like her dad.

  8. Can’t remember most of the recipes. I would try the potato recipe and a sweet recipe. I love potatoes, and I love deserts. I think this is why the book is still here on the shelf. I want to take time and thumb through the book treating it just as a special cook book. I use to cook all the time when my boys were small. They loved for me to try new recipes. I don’t cook as often now for just my husband and myself. I do suffer with depression. This makes me, at times, less hungry. At other times I can eat like a hungry puppy. Depression can also stamp on my memory(sad).

    I remember many recipes from my past. My father believed a woman should cook. My mother loved to cook and she cooked well. Before I came along she worked in the kitchens of other women. She would always say she learned how to shape a rose for cake decoration while working for one of her ladies. My father loved to go fishing in Atlantic City, Cape May and creeks like the ones in West Chester and Chestnut Hill in Pennsylvania. So my mother could bake a whole fish beautifully. She also baked a delicious apple pie, bread pudding, rice pudding and she cooked smooth grits which isn’t easy(smile). Family and friends knew her as a very slow person in the kitchen, but once she was finished her dishes were first class. My father was completely spoiled.

  9. Jen, that’s true. I did gain more knowledge about the Revolution from Reading Lolita….I might have that title wrong. Can’t think of the author’s name at the moment.

  10. Hi Wendy,

    I thought Ms. Donia’s mother an “amazing” lady too. I think Donia Bijan left not a doubt about how much she cared about her mother versus her father. I wonder if the father is a typical Iranian parent or is that stereotyping? Well, I do think think it’s a stereotype. Slap myself on the hand. Anytime I lump any group in to one thought process that’s stereotyping, and it’s not fair to the person or persons who walks by their personal drummer.

    1. Well, I don’t know, Hattie, if it is stereotyping or recognizing a certain cultural tendency. Iran’s culture leans toward the men being powerful and in charge…women’s rights in that country have not enjoyed a lot of positive press. So I think part of what we saw in the book was Donia showing us the control her father had over the family to some degree – he was very critical of her mother taking on political causes. I think Donia was lucky to have her mother’s support…without it, she most likely would not have gone against her father’s wishes and would never had followed her dream.

  11. Oh, I see the question. Sorry. I liked Pomegranate Soup because of the sister element. There were three sisters. They opened a restaurant. Really, I think the older sister carried the weight of managing the restaurant. I liked the idea of seeing the Iranians work in and around an American neighborhood. It wasn’t easy all the time. I guess Pomengranate Soup is just another angle about this country. I also read the book with a book club online. The author attended the book club and gave comments and answered questions. I was delighted with her personality, very memorable.

  12. It is really refreshing to read about the authors background, where she came, and what they have accomplished with their life. It is quite obvious from reading the book that Donia’s mom was quite an interest lady. Good book!

  13. Yes, I really enjoyed this book. I would read another book by this author. I wasn’t aware of the title until the book club told me about the book. I would have missed it or seen it at a much later time. I am so happy to have had the chance to read it at this time.

  14. Beautiful : ) For me a lovely, lyrical introduction to another culture and also greater insight into the culinary world. Even though we are very different, in many ways we face the same life issues. Women need to support each other. We understand each other in ways that men cannot comprehend. Food is a universal communicator, even when it is spoken in different languages. Wonderful recipes–they tempt me to cook outside my “kitchen box”! “Maman’s Homesick Pie” is perfect for lovers of food and books–like me.

      1. I have to jump in and say that I loved the unconventional way her family grew up in Iran. The way they lived in the hospital, the way the patients were a part of their lives and the way they specially prepared the meals for everyone. It seems like a wonderful kind of environment for the women who were their to have children, and that the children were exposed to so much. And the dinner times were heavenly as well. I was fortunate enough to have the experience of family mealtimes growing up, and it was a pleasure to get a peek in someone else’s upbringing and meal time rituals.

      2. No one has a perfect family. The more we try to deny that we are like our mother, the more we become our mother. I don’t think we really appreciate our elders until we have ourselves “gently matured”. The introduction of “Maman’s Homesick Pie” tells of the author’s experience in packing up her mother’s things after her death. The memories that came rolling in like unstoppable waves as she touched all the “treasures” that her mother had saved through the years were met with both laughter and tears. The story is not remarkable just for what the author’s family survived before they found a new life in California. It is amazaing in how the human spirit can renew itself and not only survive, but thrive. The way’s in which the author’s mother learned to adapt and combine two cultures in cooking and other aspects of life is inspiring and touching. The preparation and sharing of food is an innate, intuitive, and instinctive process. Food is present for all the important occasions in our lives, both joyful and sad. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful Gran who was “the best cook ever”. She taught me to cook, and when she was no longer able to prepare the meals for our family, I took over the kitchen. I was about 10 years old, but I had been taught well by someone who was without equal– not only in preparing food, but understanding what “comfort food” really means. It’s hard to pick just one favorite food when I was so lucky to have such riches from the kitchen. I would have to say that I truly love cornbread dressing. Such a simple food, but such a savory delight. I make my recipe with chicken broth, real butter, onion, celery, poultry seasoning, and dried cornbread stuffing “crumbs”–yes, the familiar seasonal package : ) I make it in a Dutch Oven on top of the stove and then set the pan on my stove’s back burner–the one with the heat vent for the oven. From time to time, I will wipe the inside of the pan lid with a paper towel to keep the moisture from dripping back down into the dressing. While I am using the oven from my stove for baking other holiday treats and eats, the dressing stays medium-hot on the back burner, and it stays moist. The kitchen smells divine. When I first started cooking the holiday meals, I would take my grandparents each a tablespoon full of dressing for their approval. Another family favorite food–non-holiday–is spaghetti with meat sauce. It was a tradition for me to take my grandparents a sample of the sauce. I would butter a piece of bread, cut it in half, place each half in a small bowl, and then top the bread with a generous spoonful of savory meat sauce. I felt like a princess when Gran and Paw Paw would smile at me with enjoyment of my cooking.

        1. Virginia: Thanks for sharing your family stories – I also have such fond memories of meals at my grandmother’s house, especially during the Christmas holidays. I think those memories have helped fuel my own love of food and cooking.

  15. I really enjoyed Mama’s Homesick Pie. If it had crossed my path without this book club, I definitely would have added it to my TBR list. I am a sucker for food memoirs. Bijan definitely illustrates the inextricable ties between food and narrative, food and belonging, food and memory. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not know much about the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and it was good to gain understanding of that event from the memoir.

    One thing that strikes me about this memoir is the way it illustrates how much cultural exchange now takes place. Individuals and families living lives in countries vastly different from their “home” countries — the French and American families in Tehran, the Iranian exiles in Paris, the Japanese chefs in France, etc. Narratives like Bijan make me appreciate the individual cultural strands and the beautifully-crafted though sometimes knotty results of all the various strands woven together.

  16. So many of these recipes sound DELICIOUS, but most seem beyond my culinary abilities/opportunities. I’d love to give Donia’s father’s Braised Chicken with Persian Plums (here’s hoping I don’t burn it), the Straw Potato and Muenster Galette (YUM), and the pot roast. I would happily grab a seat at any table where recipes from this memoir were being served.

  17. Great discussion here. It’s wonderful that your book club chose Maman’s Homesick Pie. Donia has recently started a blog if you want to continue following her:

  18. I have skipped all the comments to pop in here really quick and say I finally have my post up! I messed up on the date we were discussing but am caught up to you now. It was a lovely read, and I enjoyed the recipes too. In fact, I made the Orange Cardamom cookies and the Persian Tea this afternoon to post with my review.

    Now I am going to go back ad read the discussion comments.