Monthly Archives: July 2018

A Place For Us


37789271This is a love story on so many planes: young love, parental love, familial love, love of friends… Layla is the protagonist, whose arranged marriage to Rafiq brought her from Hyderabad, India to California, to make a life and raise a family: Hadia, Huda and Amar. When Rafiq accepted a position that forced him to travel for weeks at a time, he made the sacrifice to better provide for his family. But Layla, reflecting on sleeping alone for the first time in her life, watches her husband early in the morning on the day of his first business trip. “His most beautiful face is his sleeping one, no stern expressions, just eyelids, lashes, defined nose, jawline. She pictures those cartoon cottages in shows her daughters watch, where a woman inside the cottage throws open the shutters and appears at the window singing. That is how it feels today to wake up and see his face, like a window in the room of her heart is being thrust open.” Reading this passage, I knew I was reading something very special.

Fatima Farheen Mirza has written an amazing portrait of a family. Her depiction of first love is heartbreaking in its beauty. She also plumbs with grace, what life in America was like for Muslims after 9/11. There were lots of food references, and I’m always happy with food as a presence in a book. I learned about wudhu, a ritual purification that precedes prayer; and a part of a Muslim wedding ceremony where the bride and groom look in a mirror together and the groom sees the bride’s face for the first time. (Although, I understand that this has become a rarity, as more and more couples spend time together before the wedding.) I loved Mr. Hansen, who Amar had in 3rd grade and was the first teacher to see beyond his shortcomings and find beauty and kindness in him. Finally, there is a passage where Baba (Rafiq) later in life explains his connection to God in a way that brought me much closer to understanding what the faithful feel: “People pray their entire lives for things they will never receive. There are people, my friends even, who say maybe there is no soul. Maybe there is no creator. My own son once said as much to me. But I have looked up at this sky since I was a child and I have always been stirred, in the most secret depth of me that I alone can access and if that is not my soul awakening to the majesty of my creator then what is it?”

I hope I have conveyed the degree to which I loved this book. I know the feeling I have now, having just finished reading, will fade over time, but I will remember the story and the characters and my affection for them. One of my favorite reads of the year, so far.

THE BEAUTY: The title is a reference to the Romeo and Juliet aspect of the plot with a nod to a song that Tony and Maria sing in West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein and Stehen Sondheim nailed it.


THE FOOD: At a point early in the book, Hadia is in her room packing for her first year at college, and hearing through her open window, the sounds of her brother Amar, and the Ali brothers playing basketball in the driveway below. She stops what she was doing to ask the boys if they wanted a drink. She says she’s making some for herself, which was true, but she knows that Abbas Ali loves mango lassi. The two share a moment while Abbas helps her prepare the drinks, and although they are physically in the same space, their private thoughts are about each other.

Mango Lassi Recipe

Yield: Makes about 2 cups

If you have cardamom pods, crush the pods to remove the seeds, then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle.

1 C plain yogurt
½ C milk
1 cup chopped very ripe mango*, or a cup of canned mango pulp
4 tsp honey or sugar, more or less to taste
A dash of ground cardamom (optional)
Ice (optional)

Put mango, yogurt, milk, sugar and cardamom into a blender and blend for 2 minutes.

If you want a more milkshake consistency and it’s a hot day, either blend in some ice as well or serve over ice cubes.

Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of ground cardamom to serve.

The lassi can be kept refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

*Note: It took a very long time for my fresh mango to ripen, here in New England. In the future, I will use canned mango pulp that is readily available at my local supermarket. The flavor of my smoothie would have been improved if I had compensated for the lack of sweetness in my mango by adding more honey.


Looking down into the glass of partially consumed mango smoothie.



There There


There_There_cover_art_2018This debut novel by a young member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma introduces a new voice to American literature. I had no idea what to expect, only that this novel was highly anticipated and received a starred review from Kirkus. The story is told from the perspectives of twelve individuals making their way for different reasons to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each chapter is short, around 9-10 pages. I had difficulty synthesizing how the characters’ stories intersected, and also had trouble remembering who everybody was. Tony Loneman is the first character introduced. Then each of seven other characters has a chapter devoted to them before getting back to Tony Loneman again. So each time I got to the second chapter about a character, I had to go back and refresh my memory. I had even taken notes about each one along the way. This is not a flaw of the structure or the writing. The flaw is my inability to easily transition from one character or setting to another, in successive chapters. If anyone has a “hack” for dealing with this style of writing, I am all ears!

Once again, the atrocities visited against a group of people is astounding and shameful to those who perpetrated them. Also embarrassing to me because I’d never heard of some of them.  For example, the American Indian Wars were fought by European countries and finally, the U.S. over land in what is now Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. Despite treaties signed by both sides acknowledging the Cheyenne and Arapaho’s rights to the designated land, the discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak caused the government to want greater access, so they entered into  negotiations with the Cheyenne and Arapaho again, ultimately reducing Indian holdings to less than ⅓ of the earlier negotiated treaty. Many Cheyenne refused to accept the terms of the new treaty, claiming that it had not been approved by the whole tribe, and those that did sign didn’t know what they were doing, or were bribed with gifts. So without declaring war, there was a war, with the Cheyenne defending their land, and the US Cavalry viewing that as an act of war. The Sand Creek Massacre was a result of these tensions, when 675 men of the Voluntary US Cavalry attacked and killed or maimed 70-500 mostly women and children of the Cheyenne tribe on November 29, 1864. This is just one example of how the Indian nations were forced into treaties limiting their rights to their own land, ultimately confining them to reservations where their way of life became impossible to live. At various points of the book, the anger expressed is palpable, a blast in the reader’s face, beginning with the Prologue. It is appropriate.

THE BEAUTY: Edwin Black, living with his mother since completing his master’s degree in comparative literature, spent his days gaming, gambling online, incessantly checking his social media and searching for new music. He found a group of First Nation DJ’ and producers based out of Ottawa called “A Tribe Called Red.” He found their music the most modern, or postmodern form of indigenous music that is both traditional and new-sounding. A blend of instrumental hip hop, reggae, moombahton, and dub-step, with elements of First Nations music, particularly chanting and drumming, it is unlike anything I’d heard before. The clip below is only 3½ minutes, so do stick with it until the end. The chanting has a spiritual effect if you listen until the end. I love that the video shows a diverse group of urban native Americans, which is exactly the point of this book. When I find “beauty” for a blog post that perfectly embodies the theme of what I’ve read, it’s tremendously gratifying.

THE FOOD: The action of the book is all headed toward the powwow at the end, so it had to be powwow food. Since I’d already done fry bread tacos for Killers of the Flower Moon, I googled powwow food, and corn soup came up. I created the recipe here by modifying some recipes to suit my taste.

Native American Corn Soup 
Servings: 4

4 strips bacon
1 poblano pepper (or Anaheim chile pepper, seeded and chopped)
1 large (12 ounce) yellow onion (cut into thin wedges)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. corn kernels (½ cup, frozen)
1 can (15 ½ oz) hominy (golden or white hominy, drained)
1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes (no-salt-added, undrained)
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
1 ¾ cups water
1 T lime juice
1 T dried oregano, crushed
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp ground chile pepper
1 tsp garlic powder (roasted)
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ C radishes, sliced
¼ C green onions, sliced

In a 4-quart Dutch saute the bacon to render the fat. Remove bacon pieces and reserve for another purpose, like garnishing a salad to go with the soup.

Add the poblano pepper, (or can of chili) onion, and garlic to Dutch oven. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally

Stir in hominy, corn, undrained tomatoes, broth, water, lime juice, oregano, cumin, chili pepper, and black pepper, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top servings with radishes, and/or green onions.



This was delicious, and definitely a keeper. I love soup, even hot in 90 degree weather.