The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec

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The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: Canadian-born Klinec had travelled the world and founded her own cookery school in London, but it was on a trip to Iran to gather Persian recipes that she unexpectedly fell in love.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Virago
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1844088232

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Jennifer Klinec is the daughter of Hungarian immigrant parents who ran an automotive factory in southwest Ontario. She learned early on to be self-sufficient, even enrolling herself in boarding schools in Switzerland and Dublin. After graduation she moved to London, made a pile as an investment banker, and opened her own cookery school. At age 31, though, she decided to travel to the Iranian city of Yazd to learn Persian dishes. She met Vahid, 25, a military veteran with an engineering background, in a park and he introduced her to his mother for cooking lessons.

Two stories unfurl in parallel: Klinec's culinary education and her surprising romance with Vahid. For the former, she learned traditional dishes and sampled all kinds of street food, from kaleh pacheh, a soup of sheep innards, to pastries. Vahid even took her to a camel slaughterhouse to see how the animals become meat. Her favourite recipe of all was Persian rice, steamed for at least an hour so that it develops a lovely, buttery crust, often served with broad beans and pistachios. Klinec certainly has a knack for describing food in a mouth-watering way.

My slight problem with this book is that it concentrates heavily on the latter theme – the love affair – perhaps to the detriment of the food writing. It's a critique similar to one I might make of Gabrielle Hamilton's otherwise enjoyable Blood, Bones and Butter, in which the story of her turbulent marriage to an Italian man overwhelms the account of opening her world-famous New York City restaurant, Prune. For a better balance of autobiography and gastronomy, I might recommend French-born Colette Rossant's four memoirs instead.

There is something of a Pride and Prejudice flavour to Klinec's love story. At first Vahid seemed haughty and dismissive of this Western woman coming to his home. In an awkward early moment, he asked if she was a virgin and she replied, 'Of course not!' – when in fact the opposite answer is what he might have welcomed. The sexually inexperienced Vahid looked to Jenny to heal his ignorance. The uneven nature of their relationship made me uncomfortable. 'I know at least half of my appeal must be because I am not from here,' she acknowledged.

Klinec knew that Vahid's parents would never think she was a suitable partner for their son; 'For a traditional Yazdi family, a relationship was a mathematic formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage.' From the beginning they ran into trouble with the police, too. Any time they went out walking together, they were likely to be stopped and interrogated. Klinec had to pretend to be Vahid's cousin. She also ran into ridiculous bureaucracy when trying to extend her visa for just 15 days.

When at last Vahid hit on a solution to the social unacceptability of their relationship, it was a somewhat tawdry one: a 'temporary marriage' is a technical exception made for good-time girls, not a sign of a committed relationship. One mullah tried to rip them off for $500, but a second was happy to sign off on a one-year 'marriage' document. Vahid taught her assertive language so she could demand a second visa extension. Still, their time together only amounted to four and a half weeks in total. When I realised this I felt that Klinec was drawing out a thin storyline as long as possible. The sections about dealing with Iranian bureaucracy can be repetitive and tedious.

In the end, I was surprised that this ended up being (apparently) a 'happily ever after' story. Theirs didn't seem like a very stable relationship to me, yet they made it work despite all their cultural differences. If you have an interest in cross-cultural marriage, I can highly recommend My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer, in which religion plays a larger role.

My favourite pages are two towards the end where Klinec pinpoints 'Eleven Memories I Am Taking with Me', all expressed through Farsi vocabulary terms. For me these two summarise perfectly what she has tried to do in this memoir: 'yaaftan – to find something beautiful in a place where it is least expected or where you had to struggle' and 'payvand zadan – the act of locking two things to each other to keep them both safe, an old-fashioned word for marriage.'

Further reading suggestion: Risotto with Nettles by Anna Del Conte is one of our favourite 'memoirs with food', while Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour offers a fictional look at a romance set in Iran.

Buy The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec at Amazon You could get a free audio download of The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec at Amazon.com.


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