Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Amarcord: Marcella Remembers ... the good, the boring, and the bad

It is really too bad that Ms. Hazan didn't have a talented grandnephew to write Amarcord as did Julia Child in her fantastic memoir, My Life in France. As with Child's memoir, when Hazan focuses on the big picture, not just the food, it is very interesting. I didn't expect Hazan's many fascinating memories of survival in Italy during World War II, first from Allied bombings and then from authorities who suspected them of assisting the resistance. Hazan's reminiscence of school and her mother's survival cooking took us to a different world than now exists. Likewise, after Hazan has married her American-born husband and moves to New York City as a non-English speaker, we are still interested in her immigrant experience.

The bad news is that once Hazan has a food-oriented career, the big picture melts away and only food becomes the focus. As well, she tends to focus on the celebrities she has met and I found most of those stories to be fairly boring. I was especially put off by the way she justified her final break with Knopf by entering her book that compiled old recipes into an awards program designed to honor new books over the publisher's protests. She seemed to think that the fact that her cookbook won was justification enough when all it proved was that her celebrity made others overlook what the publisher very properly recognized: it was an old cookbook in new format. This perhaps typifies my biggest problem with the last half to third of the book which is that Hazan takes on a slightly complaining tone about most things which I found annoying.

This is not to say that Marcella Hazan fans will not love the book, and she does indeed have many fans. To be fair, I did not come to this book with strong feelings one way or the other about Marcella Hazan. I have her Essentials of Italian Cooking as who does not who was buying cookbooks in the 1990s. It never inspired me to do much Italian cooking although the recipes I used from it were uniformly excellent. I like a bit more personality with my cookbooks and I think that is part of my problem with this book. Hazan didn't have the advantage of a talented writer to back her up as I mentioned earlier that Julia Child did. It is hard to fault her for not being a riveting autobiography writer. However, as we can see from the beginning of the book, it is possible for her to write interestingly when she has the material. Perhaps the fault here is in the eyes of the editors who did not redirect Hazan so that her reflections about her career were not as myopic as they seemed to me.

Recommended with the caveat that one is a Marcella Hazan fan.

If one is not a Hazen fan, I can definitely recommend the first half of the book. As for the second half, that depends upon the taste of each reader, I have a feeling.

This review was made after reading a copy provided by the publisher.

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