Brick Lane by Monica Ali is the story of Hazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who moves to London when she is eighteen for an arranged marriage to Chanu, a middle aged municipal worker. Hazneen and Chanu live in the housing projects of London, and the novel follows about twenty years of their lives. The book gives an insightful portrait of the immigrant experience in London, but is mainly the story of one woman's personal growth and awakening. There is lots of mention of food in the book, as Hazneen spends a lot of her time cooking for her family, though she never eats with them. She is always sneaking into the kitchen when her family is asleep or away and eating cold food - cauliflower curry, rice and dal (lentils) - eating alone is her way of coping with her unhappiness. I dug around the internet looking for Bangladeshi recipes, and it was so hard to decide what to make. I decided to go with the basic Bangladeshi/Bengali red dal, thinking it may be kind of boring, but was the type of food Hazneen's family would eat every day. Well I was wrong about it being boring - this is a highly spiced dish that is both warm and comforting and exciting to eat.
This week's book, Unfinished Desires, is about teenage girls and all the drama that they bring to the table. The book is about a "toxic year" at Mount St. Gabriel's, an all girl's catholic boarding school in North Carolina. The stories of multiple generations of students and teachers (nuns) are told in the book, with the events of one generation inextricably tied to the events of the generation before. The way girls and women treat each other - Mount St. Gabriel's is referred to in the book as a "hotbed of bitchery"- are depicted by Gail Godwin and an incredibly insightful and real way. The women and girls that fill the book are each interesting and honest characters, all of them are likable in some way and horrible in others. The oatmeal cookies do not play a big part in the book, but were merely a passing reference to a favorite dish of students made by one of the founders of Mount St. Gabriel's, Mother Fiona Finney.