Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: Keeping the Feast

Title:  Keeping the Feast

Author:  Paula Butturini

To be published by Riverhead Books in February 2010.

This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.  I received this book for free to review.

Paula Butturini grew up in a very Italian family, where everyone came together at the end of the day to share a good meal and stories.  She held tight to this tradition through moves across the US and Europe, through a marriage and early divorce, through the shattering knowledge that her mother suffered from severe depression.

When Butturini met John Tagliabue- a reporter for the New York Times- in Rome, she was grateful to have finally found someone who seemed to truly understand her, someone with whom she could start her life.  They lived together reporting the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and going through a great many troubles because of it.

Butturini was beaten and bruised by riot police only a few weeks before her wedding.  And only a short time after they were married, Tagliabue was shot and nearly killed by a bullet through his body.  While he recovered, slowly, from the bodily injuries, he was much slower to recover from the emotional toll.  Butturini soon realized that, just as her mother had, her husband too was suffering from severe and acute depression.  After yet another blow hits their family, Paula and John returned to Italy in an attempt to heal their scars, depending on their happy memories of meals and walks and blossoming love in Rome to get them through their trauma.

I was so excited to be offered this book to review because I thought it would be a bit like A Year in Provence- a fun story of expats dealing with culture shock and eating yummy food in a foreign country.  I was slightly worried about the more religious aspects of the book- Butturini is a former religion reporter, Tagliabue had a stint in a monastery, there is a quote from the Bible to start the book and a quote from a Christian reviewer on the back cover, and references to church in the prologue.  However, there was very little overtly religious in the book- not enough to lessen my enjoyment of the book at all.  And this book is nothing at all like A Year in Provence.

Butturini has written a deeply thoughtful memoir about the pains of dealing with a family member who suffers from depression.  She manages, somehow, to do this in a way that is not depressing for the reader.  No one close to me suffers from depression, and I don't think I have the patience or the depth of compassion that is necessary to handle such a situation.  Butturini does, but she never makes her mother or her husband seem objects of pity.  She shows so well how strong they are, how courageous to fight an attack that takes place within their own bodies and minds.  And she does it with such beautiful language.

Each chapter has a type of food as a title, and each begins with a scene or memory from Butturini's childhood involving that food.  She describes the people involved in the memory, the taste of the food, why the scene is so important to her.  And then she brings us back to the present reality, the difficulties she is facing, the immense dread she feels to face another day that might be so very much like the last.

And so it is not so much a travel memoir as a food memoir.  Italy plays a role in this memoir, but not as large a role as Italian food does.  As someone who truly enjoys a trip to the farmers' market and then cooking with those ingredients, I know how cathartic preparing a meal to share with family and friends can be.  Butturini describes in her book how food saved her from despair, how it allowed her to bond with her mother when her mother was untouchable, and how it brought her husband back to her, in some small form, for at least an hour every day.

I truly enjoyed reading this book, even though it was different than I expected.  It is not a fast-paced read, and it can be difficult sometimes to read about just how sad everyone in the story is.  I think Butturini did a wonderful job of showing depression and its affects on a family in a compassionate and thoughtful light.  She writes with such emotion.  If you want a slower, more introspective read, this is a good one for that sort of mood.

One annoyance:  Butturini describes so many mouth-watering dishes, but does not share even one recipe in this book!  I would have greatly enjoyed a recipe for at least one risotto!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.


  1. This sounds really interesting, especially as someone who likes her food and has depression (happily under control at the moment). I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

  2. Bah! It's not in my library. I will have to investigate other sources.

  3. It does sound yummy, like when I watched Ratatouille yesterday :)

  4. Reminds me a bit of The Gourmet by Muriel Barberry, only that one was fiction. I just love a book dedicated to my favourite topic - food.

  5. This one sounds interesting. I don't know that I want to own it, but I might grab it from the library.

  6. What a shame about the lack of recipes, but otherwise it sounds great!

  7. Food and depression do make for an unusual combination (other than the fact that when I'm depressed, I don't eat!) But it is cathartic to prepare a meal and share it with someone you love, to help them get through the tough times.

  8. Isn't risotto the best?!! I guess the only thing to do is to go to Italy!!!

  9. Kerry- I don't think the book has been released yet. It releases in February. So check your library then!

    Blodeuedd- Haha, yes, exactly like that!

    Vivienne- I also LOVE food books! I shall look into The Gourmet.

    Amanda- Yes, I think it's good from the library. It's a slower book, and I don't know if I'll reread it, but I enjoyed reading it. My friend, though, said she skimmed the whole thing :)

    Dana- Yes, I wish there were recipes!

    Hazra- Yes, I really like preparing and sharing meals with people. It's a really nice feeling.

    Rhapsody- That's the only solution I could think of, too!

  10. This sounds really good. I am equally intrigued by the Italian food and the exploration of living with a loved one with depression.

  11. Despite the lack of recipes, it sounds interesting! Thanks for the great review.

  12. Stephanie- Yes, it's an interesting dichotomy, certainly.

    Diane- Thank you :-) Love the smiley-face, not sure if I told you before.

  13. Aarti, what a wonderful review. Thank you so much for all the time spent reading and reviewing Keeping the Feast. It is greatly appreciated.

  14. Glad that you enjoyed this! I hope to lay my hands on this one some time!

  15. I do have a family member who suffers from depression so I'd like to read this. Thanks for the review.

  16. Aarti,
    I just finished this book the other day. I also felt that it was a little different than I had been expecting. To read about the horrible depression that both her mother and husband suffered from was really eye-opening. I was surprised that they both opted for shock treatment over drug treatment, and I was also surprised to discover that there are so many cases of drug resistant depression. As far as the food sections went, I loved them. I also wish that she had included recipes, mostly for the risotto, but also for that sour cream coffee cake. I can't say for sure, as I haven't really examined my feelings about the book closely yet, but I think I may have found it a tad overwrought. It was just such a dramatic book at times, and it really made me feel a bit sad that life can be so unpredictably difficult sometimes. I was glad that things evened out at the end of the book because I really felt that they deserved some happiness and wholeness. Awesome review on this one, I agree with everything you said about the book and am really glad that you liked it!!

    On another note, I see you have finished Dead Souls! I am still in the middle of it, but am looking forward to getting back to it. I will be excited to see your review!

  17. Lisa- Thank you!

    Aths & Helen- I'll be giving a copy away tomorrow, so stay tuned!

    Zibilee- Yes, the treatment-resistant depression is very frightening, I agree. I definitely could see thinking that the book was overwrought. Maybe I was just in the right frame of mind for it. But I agree it didn't seem like she DID much to help her husband or dad (though, granted, I know nothing about depression and whether one can help someone who suffers from it).

    Yes, I did finish Dead Souls! Part 2 was really confusing with all the fragments, but overall quite enjoyable :-) It will be a joint review so might take a while to get up.

  18. Too bad the author didn't include the recipes. This sounds like a great read. Thanks for the review :)

  19. Might have to keep an eye out for this one.
    Thanks for the review!
    Nicole @ Books, Books Everywhere

  20. Wow this book sounds great. So moving. I'll definitely want to read it. Great review!

  21. It's interesting that you say the author didn't seem to be doing much to help her father and husband. Makes me curious to read the book to see if I would think of them as help-able. I like to read about people who can cook, also - cooking turns me into a melty Jenny puddle of misery.

  22. Despite my mixed feelings about memoirs in general, this one tempts me. How wrong can anything that involves Italian good really good? :P

  23. *really GO (oops :P)

  24. I just got a copy of this one, so I'm glad to know what to expect. Thanks!

  25. My husband, my 12-year-old daughter and my 91-year-old father are sitting around our dining room table in Paris (where it's cold and damp tonight). They're eating oranges while I'm at the computer in the corner of the room, reading them your review and showing them how wonderful your Rosie the Riveter column looks online. Your review of Keeping the Feast pleased us all, and I'm tickled that you liked The Penelopiad too. While I was writing the book, it never occurred to me that people would be so interested in actual recipes. Let me know if you'd like me to send along the recipe for my grandmother's sour cream coffee cake...

  26. Bookshelf Monstrosity, Nicole, Amused- Thank you! Feel free to enter the giveaway on the Riveters post!

    Jenny- That is a hilarious picture of yourself you paint :) I like to cook, personally, but I know not everyone does.

    Nymeth- Agreed. Food in general = fabulous. But Italian food seems so family-oriented to me.

    Nomadreader- Interested to hear your thoughts!

    Paul- Thank you so much for your comment and visiting my blog! I loved your Riveter post and also thoroughly enjoyed The Penelopiad. What a great choice for the series, and a really wonderful way to end it on a positive note. Thank you so much. And would LOVE a recipe for the coffee cake!

  27. Here's the promised recipe for Nana's Sour Cream Coffee Cake. My grandmother did not own a cookbook; she just wrote down recipes that came her way.

    1/4 pound butter
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 cup sour cream
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    pinch salt
    2 cups flour
    For topping and filling: mix the following ingredients in a small bowl and set aside until cake batter is made.

    1/4 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons cinammon
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a ring pan. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Then add flour with dry ingredients alternately with sour cream and vanilla. (I do this in four stages.) Beat well. Pour half the batter into the ring pan, sprinkle with half the cinammon mixture, then add the rest of the batter, followed by the rest of the cinammon mix. Use the back of a large spoon to gently press the nuts and sugar into the batter. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a rack, then turn cake out onto the rack and let it sit until totally cool. It actually tastes better if it sits overnight, tightly wrapped in plastic or foil. It's easy, and makes a great Christmas gift.

  28. Parts of it sound really good. Not sure I'm up to reading the heavier parts. Depression is very difficult to understand. Though I haven't read it, the reason the author may not have seemed to help her dad and husband is because she couldn't. Most people can't. But cooking for them, sounds like one way to help.

  29. Wonderful review. I'm a huge memoir fan and this sounds like a worthwhile one.

  30. Anonymous1/28/2010

    I finished this book today and loved it, especially the parts that described living in Rome. And you're right about needing recipes...all the pasta and risotto dishes sounded heavenly!

  31. This looks really wonderful. And I'm with you, if I read about food, I want a recipe!
    Thanks for the lovely giveaway!

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

  32. Great review! And I'm right there with you: I want the recipes!

  33. Enjoyed the review! This is one of the next titles in my TBR list and so far, the reviews I've seen have been a bit mixed. All seem to agree it was different than they anticipated, but not everyone agreed on the enjoyment factor. Good to see that if not full of entertainment, the book sounds as though it has a lot of heart. Thanks for sharing!


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