Diana Abu-Jaber grew up in two opposing worlds—the sameness-seeking conformity of Syracuse, New York, and the rollicking, dusty intimacy of Amman, Jordan—the child of an American mother and an Arab father. At the start of her truly charming memoir, The Language of Baklava (Pantheon), Diana moves easily between countries, picking up new tastes. And it is her larger-than-life father, Bud, who is cast as the misfit.
Bud is the soul of this story, the cook, the taskmaster, and the emotional hub of the family—the Bedouin who finds himself "destitute in the American dream" and repeatedly flees back to Jordan, complaining family in tow, to see if he can reclaim himself. Food is everything to Bud, and feasts link Abu-Jaber's memories; her pages are sprinkled with recipes that give her readers a taste of what the family most enjoys.
In the end, it is not Bud but Diana, the "reluctant Bedouin," who cannot commit to one home. No matter how hard she finds it to say goodbye, she moves on. It's a realization that would be stark if we didn't know how well sustained she is by Bud's gift for combining love and something really good to eat.