Monday, June 14, 2010

You've got to pick a memoir or two...

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen by Jennifer Steil, published by Broadway Books. What starts as a 3-week course teaching journalism to a group of greenhorn reporters in Yemen quickly evolves into a year-long stint as editor-in-chief of the English language newspaper, The Yemen Observer. Bewildered and smitten in equal measure with her new surroundings, Steil faces obstacles as varied as stampedes, kidnapings, and suicide bombings. But what intrigues this intrepid journalist the most is her status as "third gender" -- as a Westerner, she is free to mingle with either men or women in a country where the sexes are still strictly segregated (even at wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom are not permitted to be with each other). This memoir is both instructive and engaging, teaching this reader, at least, much about Yemeni food, culture, customs and government as Steil encounters them for the first time. A fascinating read.

The Spice Necklace: My Adventures in Caribbean Cooking, Eating, and Island Life by Ann Vanderhoof, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Everybody who knows me knows that reading, travel, and eating are my three greatest passions, and I can’t recall the last time reading a book made me as happy as this one did, as it fed all three. Unlike many travel & food writers who never stray beyond the glossy tourist areas, Vanderhoof is the real deal, seeking out and sharing the best, most authentic, down-home island recipes and experiences—whether it’s scampering after thyme-grazing goats on a Dominican mountainside, or pounding out conch with Grenadian fishermen, or learning how to “whine & shuffle” her way through a Trinidadian Carnival covered in mud, paint and sweat (and possibly other bodily fluids). I swear, you’ll scent the nutmeg wafting on the breeze as you read this book, the next best thing to sailing the West Indies yourself!

~Emily Crowe

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