Thursday, July 05, 2007



The Saffron Kitchen is Yasmin Crowther’s first novel, and to a certain extent it fits into the genre I mentioned on the blog back in May when I had just read 'Minaret'.

Set in London and rural Iran, this is the story of Maryam Mazar and her daughter Sara. Maryam was the independent and wilful middle daughter of a well-to-do General in the Shah’s army. She was resistant to his attempts to arrange a marriage for her, as she wanted her own life and then in her late teens she was disowned by her father for having brought dishonour on the family, she was sent away to Tehran and from there she eventually made her way to Britain where she met and married Edward. Sara is their daughter, an only child, she is now a primary school teacher, married and expecting her first child.

When Maryam’s schoolboy nephew Saeed arrives to live with them following the death of his mother in Iran, his arrival sparks off a chain of events. As a result of Maryam’s treatment of Saeed, Sara loses her unborn baby. Racked with guilt Maryam returns to Iran and seeks her past in an isolated rural village called Mazareh which is up in the north-east of the country near the Afghan border. Edward and Sara have been left in London to care for Saeed, and they are distressed and bemused by Maryam’s apparent abandonment of the family.

Sara decides, that she must go to Mazareh herself and bring her mother home. Although she is half Iranian, and can speak some Farsi, she finds Iran a mysterious country which is totally foreign to her, and she is confounded by the primitive lifestyle to which her mother has elected to return. But when Sara meets Ali, the village school teacher, a man with whom her mother had a deep and loving friendship when she was young, she begins to see that Maryam had a previous life of which her family in England were unaware. Just before Sara returns to London Maryam finally tells her of what happened to her all those years ago, and how she and Ali had paid a heavy price for their relationship. Sara finally comes to understand that her mother is a very different woman from how Sara had seen her, and that a long buried secret of love, shame and unhappiness has surfaced to change all their lives.

Yet again I was struck by how women in some societies are so suppressed and how cultural norms tend towards such suppression. We have had a lot of discussion in the British media recently about so called “honour” killings, and in this book Maryam is subjected to unbelievably horrible treatment, ordered by her own father – who is a sophisticated, educated man of the world – and all in the name of honour, or rather, an imagined breach of honour. What Maryam experiences is so dreadful, so emotionally damaging, that it changes her whole personality; and despite her trying to bury the incident in her mind it festers like some tumour until years later it bursts forth.

I thought that the book dealt well with the emotional difficulties of going to live in a country that has a culture very different from what one is used to, and how no matter how successfully someone seems to have assimilated, they will still have a kernel of yearning for their childhood homeland, the homeland of the heart.


FREE AT LAST!! After 114 days of captivity Alan Johnston is free. Ranting has turned to Rejoicing for today. Frankly my rant seemed petty in the face of good news, so I binned it.

Speaking to the media this morning
Alan Johnston compared his captivity with being buried alive, and I can imagine nothing worse than to be held captive by a group of volatile political extremists who threaten to kill you, it must be absolutely terrifying. The group holding him called themselves "The Army of Islam" and seemed to believe that by taking a hostage the British and Israeli Governments would accede to their demands. Johnston must have known that this would never happen - in fact it must never happen - because once goverments cave in and do deals with hostage takers, every one of their citizens becomes a potential hostage.
The big irony in Johnston's situation was that his captors had seized the one man who lived and worked in Gaza and who actually reported on the plight of the Palestinians to the wider world through his BBC broadcasts.
It is terrific for Alan, for his parents, family, friends and colleagues that he is free.
The next piece of great news would be to hear that little Madeline McCann has been found safe and well, but sad to say I think that is far more unlikely.


I love cumin, and I love meatballs, so when I found this recipe in a newspaper years ago I fell upon it with jdelight and have made it many, many times since.
This is a version of an ancient Iranian/Greek recipe from Asia minor – the sort of simple dish which would have helped feed Xenophon’s army of 10,000 men!

SOUTZOUKAKIA (Lamb and cumin meatballs)

750g minced lamb
2-3 slices good quality bread

1 egg
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt & Pepper
4 tablespoons plain flour
3-4 tablespoon sunflower oil

Cut the crusts off the slices of bread and put the slices in a bowl, pour in enough cold water so that the bread is just covered and leave to soak for 10 minutes.
Squeeze the bread dry and place it in a large mixing bowl together with the minced lamb, egg, peeled and crushed garlic, ground cumin and seasoning . Mix together with your hands until all is well blended and silky.

Put the flour into a shallow bowl.

Take a heaped teaspoonful of the lamb mixture, the size of a small walnut, and roll it into a small oval shape with your hands, set aside. Continue doing this until all the mixture is used up, then roll the meatballs in the flour until well coated, shake off excess flour.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the meatballs in batches, turning regularly, until they are lightly golden. Drain them on kitchen paper.

These can be eaten immediately or put in an oven-proof dish together with a good homemade tomato sauce and baked in the oven for 30 minutes then served with rice or noodles. They are also delicious stuffed into warm pitta bread together with a simple salad of tomato, lettuce and onion.


Teuchter said...

Sold within ten days? That's pretty good going.
Have you bought somewhere else yet - and will you be staying in the capital?

Nosy people want to know ; )

Around My Kitchen Table said...

It was really terrific news that Alan Johnston was back home - he's definitely one of the good guys, just trying to do his job in the best way he knows how, trying not to take sides but be objective.

Your book review pointed out the clash in cultures between the west and Islam. Not that the west doesn't have its share of controlling men but at least it's not so much a part of our culture.

On a completely different tack, I tried your blue cheese dressing recipe and it was really delicious.

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Se você quiser linkar meu blog no seu eu ficaria agradecido, até mais e sucesso. (If you speak English can see the version in English of the Camiseta Personalizada. If he will be possible add my blog in your blogroll I thankful, bye friend).

herschelian said...

teuchter: The idea of moving is quite discombobulating, we've been in this house for 20 years...but time to move on. We'll stick around in north London; I've never lived in proper England and though I would happily live in the bush, the countryside frightens me!
AMKT: Glad you liked the Blue Cheese dressing, its not something you want to eat week after week, but now and again it is yum.

And as for the "comment" left by rodrigo, it is just a spam link to a commercial t-shirt company - don't click on it.

Ash said...

Congratulations on selling your house!