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Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (2005)

by Madhur Jaffrey

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4661638,068 (3.68)41
Actress-writer Jaffrey gives us a memoir of her childhood in Delhi in an age and a society that has since disappeared. Madhur (meaning sweet as honey) grew up in a large family compound where her grandfather often presided over dinners with forty or more members of his extended family. Picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint and tucked into freshly baked pooris; sampling the lunch boxes of Muslim friends; sneaking tastes of exotic street fare--such memories flavor Jaffrey's story. Independent, sensitive, and curious, as a young girl she loved uncovering her family's many-layered history, and she was deeply affected by their personal trials and by the devastating consequences of Partition. This is both an account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to evoke memory. Plus a secret ingredient: more than thirty family recipes.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 20
    Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl (cransell)
    cransell: Another great memoir, with a heavy dose of food writing.
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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
This was anything but common, rich in colors and smells from an exotic place. Jaffrey is more well-known for her cook books, but she is an extraordinary writer. And she grew up in a tumultuous time in India, though Partition. While she's clearly from a family in the higher social castes, her perspective never fails to include everything around her, and the result is a frank and adventurous coming of age memoir. I only wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. The story was not yet done. ( )
  blackdogbooks | Mar 1, 2020 |
In January each year my real life book discussion group devotes the talk to biographies or memoirs. I generally choose a "celebrity" biography or memoir for my contribution to the discussion. Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey was the celebrity memoir I choose to read for the discussion this year. The UA library did not have the book in its collection so I had to Inter-Library Loan the title. It came from the LSU libraries.

The first time I heard of Madhur Jaffrey was when she was a guest on the Martha Stewart Show back in the day. I thought her recipes were interesting and that she was interesting to listen to. Then a few years later I read the book review for this title when it was published in 2000. It was a positive review so I put it on my list of books I would like to read someday. I have been watching a Southern Indian cooking show on PBS in the last few years, and Jaffrey won a James Beard award for one of her cookbooks, I so decided that now was the time to get this book and read it to see what I could learn about Indian cooking.

Like most memoirs this one is self-serving. However, to give Jaffrey her due, she recognizes that her family was privileged and that most of India was not. She talks frankly of the failures of the British and the Indian upper classes and of the Partition. To give her credit she also was a young adult during these events and so her perspective on them is from that point-of-view. She acknowledges that her perspective looking back on events is different than it was then. At the time, she was concerned with school and her friends at school. She also realizes that the events of Indian Independence and Partition turned Delhi into a melting pot of food styles. It was very interesting to read about the development of restaurants in Delhi and where and why so many of the styles of cooking that American's think of as "Indian" came about. At some points in the book the author became overweening and somewhat patronizing, but given her background that is understandable. She does try to write a balanced account of her younger years.

The book comes complete with recipes in the back, and since I own one of Jaffrey's cookbooks, I should compare to see what is included in the cookbook I own. This was a good memoir, but not the most outstanding I have read. I enjoyed the book and would like to read more about her life - especially, how she came to the world of food and cookbooks - if she ever publishes a follow-up. ( )
  benitastrnad | Jan 3, 2018 |
Probably 2.5 stars.

Somewhat interesting memoir about Madhur Jaffrey's childhood in prewar Delhi with a fine description of family history from the Indian Mutiny and following. It gives a very good view of her life in her extended Indian family, both the good and the not so good.

The importance of family ties and of food was well highlighted. ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
The author writes in detail about a magical childhood as she was growing up in pre-independence India in a joint family. As is often the case with memories from India food is a vital part! Who better than Jaffrey an author of cookbooks, to elaborate on such a childhood?
  Writermala | Aug 20, 2014 |
NOM.

Vivid prose, fantastic descriptions, a real glimpse into a life totally foreign to me. I would like to see some race critique, because I'm sure this has problematic issues down to its bones but I don't know enough to see it easily. ( )
  cricketbats | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
In this charming book, actress-turned–cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey offers a first-person account of life in India during the 1930s and 1940s. . . . Memoirs, indeed, allow their authors the space to make sense of their lives. For Jaffrey, food and family were always primary concerns. When you read her book, make sure a kitchen is near at hand: You will surely be inspired to recreate some of the avors and aromas that she masterfully describes in her tasty offering.
 
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Epigraph
Dedication
This book is dedicated to
Bari Bauwa and Babaji,
my grandparents,
for helping make their grandchildren who we all are,
and
to my daughters,
Zia, Meera, and Sankina,
and their cousins,
as well as
to my grandchildren,
Robi, Cassius, and Jamila,
for
carrying on the line of the inkpot-and-quill set
so bravely
and innocently
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I was born in my grandparents' sprawling house by the Yamuna River in Delhi.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Actress-writer Jaffrey gives us a memoir of her childhood in Delhi in an age and a society that has since disappeared. Madhur (meaning sweet as honey) grew up in a large family compound where her grandfather often presided over dinners with forty or more members of his extended family. Picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint and tucked into freshly baked pooris; sampling the lunch boxes of Muslim friends; sneaking tastes of exotic street fare--such memories flavor Jaffrey's story. Independent, sensitive, and curious, as a young girl she loved uncovering her family's many-layered history, and she was deeply affected by their personal trials and by the devastating consequences of Partition. This is both an account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to evoke memory. Plus a secret ingredient: more than thirty family recipes.--From publisher description.

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