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The Language of Baklava: A Memoir

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,963 ratings  ·  275 reviews
From the acclaimed author of Crescent, called "radiant, wise, and passionate" by the Chicago Tribune, here is a vibrant, humorous memoir of growing up with a gregarious Jordanian father who loved to cook. Diana Abu-Jaber weaves the story of her life in upstate New York and in Jordan around vividly remembered meals: everything from Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts with her ...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published March 15th 2005 by Pantheon
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3.94  · 
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 ·  1,963 ratings  ·  275 reviews

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Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It took me forever to read Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava: A Memoir simply because I never wanted it to end! I savored each of the stories, reading some of them twice, and tried many of the recipes that she shared. In fact, I loved it so much that after completing the e-book I ordered the hardcover to own. It's truly delightful.

I needed to read a "food memoir" for a book challenge and chose this one because I could eat baklava forever and a day. I knew nothing about this book before beginn
Rating 4.5

I enjoyed this book so much. If you love food, all types of food, then this is the book for you. The author tells the story of her growing up and how much food was a central part of her life. She grew up in both the United States and in Jordan and she tells wonderful stories of each of these times. Her father, Bud, is such a unique character and would be someone you would love to just talk to for hours on end. Food is extremely important to him and his family. The tales of the most bas
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I finished Diana Abu-Jaber's memoir The Language of Baklava, which I checked out from the library, and I may have to get a copy of this book. It's a wonderfully written memoir filled with memories and food recipes, much of which hailing from Abu-Jaber's Jordanian heritage from her father's side, but some others that are pulled from other places.

Much like Kim Sunée's Trail of Crumbs, which is another memoir mixed with recipes, Diana Abu-Jaber's recollections place a major focal point on the food,
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I love to read. I love to cook. I love to eat good, well prepared food. I love to read about people who cook.

But the author apparently isn't a person who cooks, at least not beyond helping grandma or auntie make the occasional pastry. She never does the cooking. It's done for her, or she's invited to a meal cooked by someone else.

The recipes are delicious, and a person with some cooking experience should be able to reproduce them--IF you can find the special ingredients. The author glibly stars
I had mixed feelings about this book. When I first realized it was a book with recipes in each chapter, I thought, oh, no, one of those cooking books that are cutesy and vapid. But, no, it is a well written and delightful memoir of a Jordanian-American family with a high energy, outgoing father who loves to cook. The recipes are not the point of the book but simply seem to emphasize certain lessons in growing up in the author's culture. My favorite part was the year that the family spent in Jord ...more
Oct 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I could not out this book down. It's basically a memoir of eating and living the Arab way, but it will strike a chord with anyone who grew up in a close family. I loved reading about Abu-Jabber's family adapting to the American way. The trips to the city and NJ and thr family time made me think back on the stories I've heard of how it was when my own relatives lived in that area. The recipes are part traditional part American and are allllll very do-able. I found recipes that I want to make and ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read06, foodie
To continue my continuous craving of Middle Eastern food, the memoir of Diana Abu-Jaber reads very similarly to her novels. You can see how family members she really has get woven into her fictional characters later on. Plus, this book has a bunch of recipes that I will hopefully get to try. Now I just have to sit and wait for her to write more novels! If anyone has recommendations for other books about people who live in two worlds (such as being of Arab-American descent) I would love to hear a ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Abu-Jaber was a dual-culture child: with an American mother and a Jordanian father, she spent most of her childhood in upstate New York but a two-year (relatively brief, but formative) period in Jordan. She portrays her father as a larger-than-life character, eagerly embracing much of what the States had to offer while also hanging steadfastly to certain cultural norms.

This is not the sort of book with a tidy start point and end point, or one about a definable thing that happens. Rather, it is a
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Thoroughly, completely charming.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'd never even considered making my own pita bread until I read the seemingly simple recipe in Diana Abu-Jaber's wonderful memoir The Language of Baklava. In beautiful, resonant language, and delicious-sounding recipes (well, maybe not the Velveeta grilled-cheese sandwich one!) Abu-Jaber explores growing up between the culture of her expansive Jordanian father and that of her reserved and calm Irish-German-American mother. I too grew up in a multicultural household (not Arab in my case, but Sout ...more
Mar 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Culinary memoir, eh? Sounds like a winner to me. Actually, so much foodwriting is shamelessly exhibitionist, a shower of sensory description, a contest to see who can worship more lavishly at the alter of the edible. And a lot of memoir is distracted by the need to editorialize on one's journey. So culinary memoir tends to center on The Nostalgically Delicious and Impossibly Meaningful Meal of Yore. This author's story unfolds naturally, her vivid recollections of shared family meals in the US a ...more
Apr 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
"Laugh out loud" funny may be a cliche but I started smiling on page 1 and by page 23, I was laughing out loud. It may just be me ... see for yourself:

"I am a hapless kid. My shirts are covered in food. I lose myself searching for four-leaf clovers and get left behind when recess ends. I look up from my hunting to find myself sprawled alone in a cloer field, a sunny sky full of white sailing clouds. I get lost on the way to school. I get lost on the way to the washroom. I get lost on the way hom
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction-bio
It's difficult for me to criticize memoirs. I mean, who am I to criticize someone's life recollections? Nonetheless...

I didn't find this book very compelling. Maybe I know too many people who have grown up in multiple cultures and felt identity crisis. Abu-Jaber's life didn't seem that remarkable to me. She was creative in weaving the narrative of food throughout the book. The recipes left me feeling hungry but that was the extent of my inspiration.
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir-biography
I did not find this book "vibrant and humorous" like the jacket claimed. I found it sad and depressing. Most of the stories were upsetting and I didn't find the humor in them at all.
Sep 20, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are obsessed with Jordanian food
Recommended to Anne by: Michelle Herman
I learned that just because you have a mixed cultural heritage doesn't mean you have anything interesting to say about it or an interesting way to say something about anything.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to F by: Zaina
Shelves: arabic, memoir, zaina
My opinion of The Language of Baklava wavered as I was reading it.

At first, I found it hard to get into, but once I was hooked, I was hooked... until it become an altogether too familiar story: over-bearing patriarch who wants to relive the glory of his past days and childhood, submitting his daughter who still has not broken free from the familial chains in order to go find herself. It is the story of most Arab households.

I think that's the reason I just got tired and didn't feel like picking i
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A memoir about a person split between two cultures--Jordan (her father) and America (her mother), largely revolving around food and how it relates to her, her family, and both cultures.

I never get sick of foodie memoirs, and also books (both fiction and non-fiction) about culture clash. The author feels pulled in two directions throughout the book, and lives in both Jordan and the US for periods of time.

Food is fundamental. Food is family, entertainment, and culture here. Food is the centerpiece
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad that I chose to read this book even though it was part of my Young Adult Literature class last semester. Honestly, I'm heart-broken that I wasn't able to hear my professor's thoughts and analyzations about this book. But regardless, this is definitely one of my favorite memoirs I've ever read.

The Language of Baklava was so beautifully written. Food is such an important part of culture, regardless of whichever culture you come from. The fact that Diana Abu-Jaber added recipes in bet
Lorianne DiSabato
Diana Abu-Jaber grew up between two worlds: her mother's America and her father's native Jordan. Food is the link between the two, the way she stays connected to her family (and particularly her father) as they move from Syracuse, NY to Jordan and back again. Each of Abu-Jaber's chapters is a stand-alone story with a recipe at the end. Although both Abu-Jaber and her narrative lose their way after she graduates from college--a place with such terrible, soulless food--the latter part of the memoi ...more
Özge Demirci
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There were so many things I could relate to in The Language of Baklava. Reading Abu-Jaber's story I had a chance to remember my memories that I thought I had forgotten. If you have more than one place that you call "home" you will relate to her story and feel that you are not the only one feeling that way. I am excited to try the recipes from the book. Such a rich and delicious book!

"I miss and long for every place, every country, I have ever lived and frequently even the places my friends and m
John Benson
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a memoir of Diana Abu-Jaber and her father from her childhood into her thirties. Her father was a very outgoing man who immigrated from Jordan and loved to cook. The book meanders through Diana's childhood as she tells stories of her childhood that centered around meals cooked by her father. There relationship could be stormy at times. With each chapter, she includes recipes for the foods that anchor the chapters. The story includes times when Diana lived in upstate New York and when she ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved it! Will definitely be reading her other books. I'm crazy about the way she uses language. Also I have a special place in my heart for many of the dishes in this book: hummus, muhammara, mujaddara, baba ghanoush, labneh, falafel. I first sampled these items as a college student, and the smells and tastes of these foods are inextricably tied to a sense of freedom and possibility. My friend gave me a copy of this book, and I will be passing it along to another friend, who loves to cook as mu ...more
Debra B.
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book I have read by this author and it was just as good as the first (Arabian Jazz). Her descriptive ability is excelkent. This book was her first of two memoirs, and you really gather a sense of her struggle, and her father's struggle with identifying as "Arab-American". A very talented writer. Next I will read her second memoir, "Life Without A Recipe", which we will discuss in our next Book Club Meeting.
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lyrical writing and both affectionate and clear-eyed in its remembrances. Will have to try the recipes soon. I do wish Abu-Jaber had spoken more about her mother, but I understand that wasn't the focus of the story she was telling - that her relationship with her father and their relationship with Jordan is the real central thread.
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love memoirs about 2 cultures colliding. It's usually the adults who never adjust, the kids do well. And of course the Syracuse connection which is how I found this author. I admire teenager Diane who was not intimidated by her dad but pushed to have an American-style high school life. If you visit Euclid today Diane, it is the gateway to growth unlimited, Syracuse has migrated to Clay, NY.
Shelley Carr
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A thoughtful memoir of the author's experience growing up half irish, half jordanian in both upstate New York, and Amman, Jordan. Interwoven with recipes and descriptions of experiences through the food she eats ( or does not eat), I would consider this a food memoir. Prepare to crave middle-eastern foods, and try out her recipes, they are quite good!
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this for a book club and enjoyed it. She relates to her immigrant father and his culture through food. The author includes the recipes to the many dishes that illustrate her family stories and the effect is charming. Reminds me of Climbing the mango tree by Madhur Jaffrey. It is part family memoir part cookbook.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
An entertaining read about food, family, and trying to fit into two worlds. The recipes sometimes didn't quite fit in with the stories to which they were linked, but they were cleverly named and did occasionally make a very poignant statement.
Dianne Danielson
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was so beautifully written that I could almost smell the food cooking and feel the Jordanian dust blowing in my face. Abu-Jaber has a gift for description. The story about identity was engaging, and the recipes made me salivate. I can't wait to try them!
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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.

“Marry, don't marry,' Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel.

Just don't have your babies unless it's absolutely necessary.'

How do I know if it's necessary?'

She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. 'Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing.' She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. 'For me, almost always, the answer was cake.”
“I’m in my junior year but I can’t take it anymore. The beige walls, the scent of linoleum and used lockers, the shrill bell between classes. High school is sucking the life out of me.” 5 likes
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