In his memoir with recipes Savage Feast, Boris Fishman tells stories about family meals and vexing conversations revolving around them. The meals are made up of dishes from the Belarusian Jewish heritage of his parents. The conversations test Fishman’s patience and ability to explain to his mom and dad from the ex-Soviet Union his aspirations as a young man who was born in Belarus but grown up in the USA. Most importantly of all, he is struggling to make understandable both to them and himself the issues in his protracted relationship with Alana, an American woman with whom he shares an “attraction that would make Gabriel García Márquez sit up,” but which unfortunately proves insufficient to sustain a satisfying long-term relationship.
Right in its prologue, Savage Feast sets up multiple questions that on a single weekend kept me reading right to the book’s very end. Would Fishman eventually reconcile his ex-Soviet immigrant heritage with his American identity? Would he be able to find a partner with whom he enjoys a healthy, harmonious relationship? And would he share at least one meal with his Belarusian Jewish family, savoring delicious dishes without being upset and disappointed at their inability to understand him?
I appreciated the honesty and directness with which Fishman relates his frustrations in the interactions with his parents. In my experience, Eastern European families don’t openly acknowledge problems and disagreements. This makes it close to impossible to resolve thorny issues and patterns of dysfunction. It falls on children to tackle troubling matters in order to clear the path to their own well-being. A lot is at stake here and I couldn’t resist gobbling up Savage Feast so that I could find out whether Fishman would succeed.