Monday, May 28, 2018

Simple Recipes Are Never Simple

Picked up Math Paper Press’s edition of Madeleine Thien’s earlier work titled ‘Simple Recipes’ (2001). It's her first book with seven stories touching on family ties, dysfunction, redemption and acceptance. It tells the story of immigrants to Canada, and how their adult eyes view their childhood, and how they're managing as adults.

Again, this isn't a genre I'm fond of reading. But I have to get out of my comfort zone a few times a year. This book isn't too difficult to read, but it's just filled with family (blood relations) issues that I generally do not like to deal with, and if I have to, I tend to exert a heavy hand to the extent that people opt out of having to deal with me.

Title story ‘Simple Recipes’ sees how a daughter views her father, of how he teaches her to cook rice, and he eats every bowl of rice that she cooks, even if the rice turns out too hard or mushy. The father is indulgent towards the daughter, and she is unable to reconcile his violence towards his son, her brother. The father yells and canes the brother with the bamboo pole all the time for mistakes made that she is unable to comprehend. Seeing her father through the eyes of an adult doesn't make it less painful either.

A face changes over time, it becomes clearer. In my father's face, I have seen everything pass. Anger that has stripped it of anything recognizable, so that it is only a face of bones and skin. And then, at other times, so much pain that it is unbearable, his face so full of grief that it might dissolve. How to reconcile all that I know of him and still love him? For a long time, I thought it was not possible. When I was a child, I did not love my father because he was complicated., because he was human, because he needed me to. A child does not know yet how to love a person that way.

The final story in the book is long. 'A Map of the City' follows Miriam, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and how she has been affected by the split of her Indonesian-immigrant parents, and has to deal with her father abandoning the family. She marries Will, miscarried, and eventually calls time on the marriage because she couldn't deal with her own emotions, and also finally reconciles with her parents, and her father who returns to Canada, and attempts suicide. To me, it's all very complicated. When you want a relationship with humans who are related to you by blood, that comes along with a truckload of emotional baggage that you might not want to handle, but you still get it anyway.

To Will, I said that longing was not the point. In any case, my parents were still alive. 
Will said, "Death isn't what I meant exactly. And don't be so sure about the longing." 
"Why not?" 
"Because it's plain. You miss them all the time." 
I let this sit for a moment, then I broke into a smile. Will was unfailingly patient. He let me dance around a topic but never come to rest on it. He forgave all my inabilities, first and foremost my unwillingness to speak with him about my family.

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