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April 22, 2024

Keeping the Feast: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Keeping the Feast, by Paula Butturini.

Like memory itself, this book wanders back and forth between old recollections and new. Food is the thread that connects them, for food has always been my lens and my prism, my eye on the world. I may write about the smell of asparagus, the color of polenta, or the taste of figs still warm from the sun, but all of it is a personal shorthand for weighing hunger and love, health and nourishment, secrets and revelations, illness and survival, comfort and celebration, and perhaps above all, the joy and gift of being alive. - from Keeping the Feast, page 6 of the ARC -

When Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue met as foreign correspondents in Rome, they had no idea what the future held for them. Four years later, married and living in Poland during a time in Eastern Europe when communist rule was falling and violence was erupting, their lives were suddenly changed. As Butturini writes: 'A single bullet started it all.' Recovering from a near fatal beating in Czechoslvakia only days earlier, Butturini was stunned when she received a phone call on Christmas eve that John had been shot in Romania, an event which led to a life threatening infection, repeated surgeries and months of hospitalization ... and served as the catalyst for a slide into a debilitating depression.

Keeping the Feast, Butturini's memoir of the years following the shooting, is a stunning, beautifully written celebration of how our traditions surrounding food, and the memories and comforts those bring, can speak not only to our physical cravings, but to our souls as well.

Italy still celebrates one of the most primordial rituals of the human community, the daily sharing of food and fellowship around a family table; what better place to take ourselves to heal? - from Keeping the Feast, page 15 of the ARC -

Keeping the Feast is not just about the horror of John's injury and his slide into deep depression ... at its core, this book is about the impact of our food traditions on memory, healing, and finding quiet comfort. Butturini begins each chapter with a childhood memory around food. Her descriptions are mouth-watering, consoling, and beautifully wrought. Who among us has not turned to a favorite childhood meal to find peace in a time of crisis?

To eat a food reminiscent of some childhood treat, to eat a food that nudges strong childhood memories, is to return to the country, town, neighborhood, and family -- the very dinner table where we first encountered the edible world. - from Keeping the Feast, page 165 of the ARC -

For Butturini and her husband, a return to their genetic roots in Italy, where they had met and fallen in love, was the key to rediscovering peace and recovery. The simple ritual of getting up and walking to the local market to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meat was the balm for Butturini's psychic wounds. The act of making a healthy meal of pasta and sitting down daily to share three meals a day proved not only a calming activity for Butturini, but also just what John needed to find his way out of the dark recesses of his depression.

I found myself completely engrossed in Butturini's story. I have long found solace in food and its preparation. The first thing I wanted to do for my sister when she was diagnosed with cancer was to make her comfort food that would heal her body and soul. Food represents so much more to us than simple nourishment -- it represents our family traditions, our nationalities, and the joy of being with others around a table. Butturini's wonderful prose captures the joy and healing food can bring to our lives.

Keeping the Feast is an honest, heartfelt exploration of one couple's journey from depression to wholeness. Its stunning depictions of Italy (and Rome specifically) will satisfy the reader who enjoys travel writing. Butturini's love of food and her mouth watering descriptions of it will delight those readers who consider themselves "foodies." It is Butturini's ability to unite all three of these subjects into a cohesive, compelling story that will have readers praising this book.

Highly Recommended.

Five stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-15
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