Paula Butturini and her husband John Tagliabue grew up in a rich Italian tradition that both celebrates and takes equal comfort in the preparation and sharing of meals with family members and friends. When they met, they seemed like a natural match for one another, and spent four happy years as a couple, holding down various positions overseas as journalists.
It’s when they marry that the troubles begin. Butturini is first viciously beaten during a riot just as communism is falling in Eastern Europe and only a few months later John is grievously injured when shot when on assignment- later contracting Hepatitis B and spiraling downward into a depression that threatens not only his sanity but his marriage. Through it all Butturini clings to her family culinary traditions to ground their fragile family and provide them all with sense of comfort as the gradual healing process begins to take place.
Lisa from Books on the Brain hosted a chat with Keeping the Feast author Paula Butturini where I said, “I really enjoyed the food and how you framed each of your chapters with food and the experiences that both your family and John’s had with it. How early in the process did you decide to structure the book the way that you did?” Butturini responded:
Nicole, I knew from the very first days of trying to write this book that I had to tell our story not only from the negative — because I couldn’t have written it and NOBODY could have read it — but from the positive too, and the food angle just seemed perfectly natural to me.
Butturini’s conscious decision to frame this book in the positive did much toward making what could have been unbearable circumstances to contemplate, into a story that was fascinating, heartwarming and inspiring. I loved getting to know the intricacies of their family lives with all the travel, work responsibilities and the juggling of children (John had two children, Peter and Anna, from a previous marriage) and their childhood experiences where wonderful meals were used to celebrate holidays, attaining personal goals, as rewards for difficult or disappointing days, and just as an everyday celebration and affirmation of life.
It was refreshing to read about families that had healthy appetites and appreciation of food, and ones who have used such a simple pleasure to bond with family and friends. Butturini is frank and unflinching in her portrayal of John’s surgeries and the unrelenting brutality of the depression suffered by both her mother and her husband. I think she offers a true portrait of just how debilitating depression can be. It’s a term that has been watered down through our casual use of it to describe everyday moods where we may not be as happy as we would like, but the reality of it is that is is a serious illness, nowhere near as simple or as fleeting as a day or two of the feeling blue.
Just as food and meal preparation were able to get her through the lowest parts in her marriage they were also able to do the same for the readers. The heading for each chapter was food themed and offered a glimpse of different purposes they served in the past and in her life with John. The descriptions of food and the places that her family travled while recuperating in Europe was superb. Butturini has a straightforward and easy style of writing that draws you into the story and gives such a clear picture of her colorful family, and though she is sharing what is the toughest time in her life, you still feel supported and able to examine those times with her.
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