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Life Without a Recipe
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Life Without a Recipe

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  85 reviews
On one side, there is Grace: prize-winning author Diana Abu-Jaber’s tough, independent sugar-fiend of a German grandmother, wielding a suitcase full of holiday cookies. On the other, Bud: a flamboyant, spice-obsessed Arab father, full of passionate argument. The two could not agree on anything: not about food, work, or especially about what Diana should do with her life. G ...more
Hardcover, 267 pages
Published April 18th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company
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3.66  · 
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 ·  412 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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The Jordanian–American writer reflects on how various food cultures have sustained her through a life that hasn’t always turned out as expected. Three marriages, a move from Portland to Florida, a winding path to motherhood in her forties, and her father’s death from leukemia are some of the main events, but Abu-Jaber is just as good at pinpointing life’s quiet shifts.

Like Sasha Martin’s Life from Scratch, this is more about family and personal history than it is about food (and there are no rec
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I have read almost every book Diana Abu-Jaber has written so far; this started with a friend's recommendation of Crescent back in library school. This is her second memoir, chronicling more about her adult life - three marriages, adoption, aging parents, career moves, trips back to Jordan, etc. It is the logical continuation of The Language of Baklava: A Memoir, a memoir I enjoyed more than her fiction! Her father Bud continues to be as central of a character as ever, particularly in his relatio ...more
Jan 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: net-galley
This was my first Net Galley ARC. Thank you! I saw a meme the other day on FB that talked about how sometimes when you finished a book you wished that the author was your good friend and you could call him or her up anytime and talk about anything. This is that book. I go back a ways with Abu-Jaber. She spent part of her childhood an hour away in Syracuse, NY and her first memoir, The Language of Baklava: A Memoir, set there in part, was a community-wide read in my hometown, culminating with a r ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Gorgeous. I spent so much time highlighting sentences. This is one of my favorite short lines. "Advice is offered like food from the hand- a loving, unwanted gift." It tickled me because I think of all the advice women have fed me and being that my grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant- I had so much food forced on me, just as full on that as advice. I admit, I was expecting non-stop kitchen stories and this is not that type of book. It is a journey- every bit of her from her limbs to her soul p ...more
Jammin Jenny
I received this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The author brought me into her life, and her experiences, in a very real way.
Taryn Pierson
Feb 08, 2016 rated it liked it
I’ve been on a memoir kick lately, and this one is sweet and poignant and full of baked goods. Abu-Jaber writes about her complicated relationships with her German grandmother and Arab father, who were almost always at odds with each other and influenced her life in equal, if competing, ways. It's also the story of her roundabout route to marriage (third time's the charm) and motherhood (domestic infant adoption when she was well into her forties). This is the kind of memoir that's less a recoun ...more
Janilyn Kocher
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I received a copy of this book through net galley for an honest review.

I adored this book. It's heartwarming, endearing, and insightful. The author throws open the doors of her life for a reader's introspection with no apologies. I enjoyed her depiction of her father, who was obviously a character. Her diverse background was intriguing to explore as she shifts back and forth between her inter meshed cultures. This is a great read.
Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of Abu-Jaber, which is why I scooped up this book immediately on finding out that it existed. It's a memoir of her life, tied together by frequent referrals to food. There's not really a single topic or focus here; much as the title suggests, it's a meandering path through Abu-Jaber's life, covering subjects as diverse as the contentious relationship between her single, American, Catholic grandmother and her sociable, Jordanian, Islamic father; her own history of romantic relations ...more
Whitney Page
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sad and haunting, a look into a writers real life, dealing with loss, attachment, the ordinary things.
May 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
When you look at this book - it looks short. When you start reading it - it looks long. The text is clear, but the many ornaments of the text muddy the whole information making me turn the pages faster towards the next chapter, hoping it to be better than this one. A book dedicated to a child and a grandmother. Only to read that the wonderful grandmother is not very intelligent and does good things to the family like self medicating with strong alcohol, including the children. So much for good p ...more
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I love Diana Abu-Jaber's books. They are beautiful, contain these wonderfully descriptive sentences and will make you hungry for days. This is a memoir about food and family, like her previous "Language of Baklava." It surrounds her maternal grandmother, her father and her young daughter and what they have taught her about love, about food, about everything. I highly recommend this for Abu-Jaber's fans and even those who have not yet read one of her books. It is just lovely.
Michelle Arredondo
I've mentioned before that I LOVE memoirs...maybe even better than I love historical fiction most times. There is hardly a memoir that I don't like...hardly. This memoir is seriously a wonderful one. I just really enjoyed it. Life Without a Recipe by Diana Abu-Jaber came into my life and after reading it, I am certain it is staying. I am placing this book on the shelf of my faves.

I want to spotlight this book with a more thought out review on my blog eventually so I don't want to get into too ma
Victoria Allman
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Having fallen in love with Diana's writing and her grandiose real-life characters in The Language of Baklava, I was thrilled to see them continue to be portrayed in Life Without a Recipe.
Who could not love Bud when he is so lovingly portrayed in scenes like: "the priest presented Dad with a contract to raise his children within the Catholic faith, Dad signed in Arabic. He nudged Gram in the ribs; as if she were in one the joke, and, instead of writing his name, wrote: I make no promises.
The othe
Dec 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Lacks the charm of her other memoir. Even though I wasn't in love with her other memoir, 'The Language of Baklava', this still sounded quite charming. In the previous book it seemed like she merely skimmed over other parts of her life and so I had hoped this would fill the other parts she didn't talk about.
Instead, the book is more like snapshots of her life and pieces that were just not all that interesting. She talks a bit about her grandmother, her marriages, the adoption of her daughter, et
Jan 17, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is exactly what I was hoping for: a heartfelt, sumptuously written account of one woman's life.
There was more about motherhood than I cared to read, but I enjoyed how she made her father appear so vividly on the page.
The musings on life and death are poignant yet realistic and even quite funny at times. The author played with time by shuffling events around to suit her narrative, making it a memoir and thus an example of how time and memory interact.
My favorite were her thoughts on
Bonnie Irwin
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs-bios
Another memoir by one of my favorite writers. Diana Abu-Jaber includes more of the culinary traditions of her mother's side of the family in this follow-up to The Language of Baklava. Life Without a Recipe begins with the cookies the writer's German grandmother made. Relationships, family hopes and dreams, and culinary traditions intertwine in this delightful memoir, at times humorous, but consistency poignant.
Jun 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A delightful memoir of life, love, family, divorce, and death interwoven with memories of cooking and sharing food. The author shares her memories of how food has shaped her life. It is a very touching and funny memoir.
Mar 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Powell's newsletter, 3/24/16
Darlene Cruz
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Clearly a memoir to take a hold of you. Inspiring, entertaining, and full of life, that's it, "full of life."
Received a free book, winner Goodreads First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz
Daniela Toache-Allen
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great book!! I had mixed feelings at first about it but I am really glad I got to read it! Really worth your time.
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book sneaked up on me a little bit. I'm a sucker for food-based memoirs, so the cover grabbed my eye. Initially, I thought it was going to be a somewhat predictable take on ethnic worlds colliding--a Jordanian father who cooks obsessively, a German grandmother who bakes equally obsessively, the two unable to see eye-to-eye. And indeed, that is where the book begins, but the title, which seems potentially trite or twee, is actually very descriptive of its contents. Abu-Jaber's book explores ...more
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Diana Abu-Jaber is a Jordanian-American writer who is caught between two cultures - sweet and savory. Her German grandmother taught her how to bake and shared her recipe for a perfect life while the Arab side of her family was all about not using recipes and adding lots of spice to life. Life Without a Recipe is the story of Abu-Jaber finding a balance between the two.

This is a beautifully written, poignant memoir with a whole lot of heart. She describes her family members in such a way, that y
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful book--funny, poignant, down to earth, lyrical. Full of passages like this:

I learned from him: No telling where family comes from. It’s something richer than blood. It can be made and unmade and made again. It waits patiently to be claimed, taken indoors, for another place to be set at the table. The Qur’an says, “We are one human family, make peace with your brothers and sisters.” Another way of saying, I think, put out more plates. I’ve felt the sense of kinship inside dinner clubs an
Evelyn Lee
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bios-and-memoirs
The metaphorical comparisons to food and cooking, plus lovely and poetic writing at the beginning and end of this book were absolutely wonderful. But, strangely, the writing totally changed during the whole section after adopting her baby and and dealing with no sleep and endless crying and screaming. She did not return to the metaphorical style of prose until a solution was found to finally soothe the baby. Was this on purpose? Does raising a baby suck one's creativity and artistry away? A larg ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-novels
I greatly enjoyed the book. I connected so much with her stories of loss and the way she describes her connections with memories... it stirred my soul. Her connection with baking is how I've often tried to explain mine to cooking. I think Bud and I would've related well. I give this 4.5 stars because the flow threw me off a bit at times... back and forth in times. It's easy enough to catch back up but the mental hiccup sometimes was too much and I'd find myself putting the book down and coming b ...more
Jill Blevins
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the sweetest, best memoirs I've read in a long time. Enjoyed it even more than her previous work, and that's saying so much. She has one of those voices that makes you think she's someone you might know from somewhere - so familiar and so connectable. I have nothing in common with her except being human and female, yet I felt like I had gone through love and pain for three people before I finished reading.

It's what we read memoir for - living through another's extraordinary experiences so
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, 2017
I really enjoyed her other memoir book (The Language of Baklava) and actually still use a grilling recipe from it! Obviously by the title of this one, it was still food focused in many ways, but sadly no recipes. I found this book a little slow moving at times. I enjoyed the parts about her deciding to become a parent, but after that, it felt a bit slow as she wrote a lot about not writing. Overall though, she has an interesting story to tell, and I would certainly pick up more books by her.
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a most revealing memoir. For those who have read Abu-Jaber before, you'll know of the American-Jordanian heritage. The families are real and recognizable. The joy is great, the pain can be overpowering but there is always family and food present to accompany the journey.

I loved this book...probably because I am a fan and have read the others.

Highly recommended.
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This memoir really grows on you as the author becomes more and more willing to share the heights and depths of her life as an adult. All wrapped around food as a tool, her cultural heritage, her joys and loss. Looking forward to reading her memoir about her childhood in Syracuse, The Language of Baklava.
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: r-memoir
I was not familiar with this author before reading this, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Great food imagery, the prose is gorgeous, and it reaffirms that no one really knows what they're doing. I loved the interplay of Jordanian and southern culture, and at times the story was beautiful and moving and amazing.
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Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of Life Without A Recipe, Origin, Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. Her writing has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Ms., Salon, Vogue, Gourmet, the New York Times, The Nation, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.