||A Review of: Tea and Pomegranates: A Memoir of Food, Family and Kashmir
by Brian Fawcett
This is a small book with just 10 food recipes. It is as advertised: a memoir of food, family, and Kashmir. What isn't advertised is the elegance with which those three elements are integrated and rendered indivisible, and how deliciously informative it is, both in the culinary and cultural sense. Like most Canadians, I've tended to lump the regional cuisines of India together. Nazneen Sheikh demonstrates that this is a diminishment of their delicate specificity, and, well, more than a small insult-and not just because the several distinct cultures on the subcontinent disagree on virtually everything.
Sheikh herself is a kind of ambulatory cultural bridge, born in Kashmir, raised in Pakistan, educated in the United States and a long-time resident of Canada. Like many of Toronto's writers, I've eaten at her table, and thus can authenticate her expertise as a cook. She's fabulous in the kitchen, but she tosses it all off so casually that I didn't recognize how careful she is with her cuisine, or how integral it is to her sensibility. She has written a book you can read for its love of food, and its ten magnificent recipes. But if you leave it there, you'll be missing a first-rate cultural history of one of the planet's political flashpoints. You'd also be missing some great storytelling, with a finely drawn cast of characters worthy of anyone's attention. It makes you wish Penguin had taken the book a little more seriously, asked her to go on a bit longer, and put the book in a larger, more readable and usable format. Most books are small books acting big. This one is a big book playing smaller than it ought to.