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  1. Book ImageLife Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family

    Diana Abu-Jaber

    “Diana Abu-Jaber is the Ambassador of Big-Heartedness.”—Patrick Volk, on The Language of Baklava

Discussion Questions

  1. “Babies are for women who can’t do much else.” Why do you think Gram holds this opinion of mothers? What other pressures deter Diana from having a child? What draws her to adopt in middle age? Do you encounter people who claim that artists must be “selfish” to serve their art, and female artists must “choose” between a fertile, intellectual, or creative life and having a family? Or do you encounter stereotypes of mothers as homebound? What do you say?
  2. There’s a lot about appetite, food, and cooking in Diana’s memoir. What is a woman’s relationship to food supposed to look like? And does this relationship stay the same over the course of her life, or does it change?
  3. To what extent is food in this memoir, or in your own experience, a stand-in for ethnicity and group belonging, and to what extent is it an expression of individual desire?
  4. Diana’s family members, from her father to her grandfather to her aunts and uncles, all offer various forms of life advice. How does Diana reconcile all of these multiple perspectives?
  5. “Adversaries, even enemies, can rely on each other. My father and my grandmother teach me this by accident. They don’t get along and they agree on everything.” Why do you think Grace and Bud’s adversarial relationship lasts for as long as it does? How else are family members adversaries in this book, and how are they allies?
  6. “‘Your baby is so pretty, and such an interesting color—was her daddy very dark?’ . . . The woman watches me, Bud, Gracie, her face sharpened, trying to add up our colors. Perhaps it’s not kind, but I say brightly, ‘Actually, I’m not sure who the daddy is.’” Today, many Americans grow up in multicultural, multiracial families similar to Diana’s. Why do you think some people are resistant to this? What are other difficulties attached to growing up in, or raising, a multicultural family?
  7. “You’re pretending to be this big feminist,” a friend once said to Diana, “You really don’t care about any of it.” “I do so care,” Diana responds, unable to think of anything more to say in response. Do you think the men and women in Life Without a Recipe are feminists? What do you think it means to be a feminist today?
  8. Before finding Scott, Diana survived two divorces. What do you think Diana learned from her failed relationships? Why do you think she got into these marriages in the first place?
  9. Bud, Diana writes, let Grace “have the religion” in their turf wars over the children. Do you think there’s room for ritual and tradition in a “life without a recipe” and for “modern” women in America?
  10. “You limit yourself to the books of the English?” an incredulous Parisian baker asked a teenage Diana. “Quel domage! . . . Life is for the blood! If you want the feeling for life, for the blood of the mind, you should be studying Hugo, Proust, Stendhal, Voltaire, Flaubert.” What do you think the baker means by comparing French and English literature here? Do you think there’s a relationship between Diana’s work with literature and her approach to life?
  11. Diana’s identity as a mother, wife, daughter, and granddaughter are central to this book. How do you think these roles interact with her Arab-American identity? And her identity as a writer?
  12. Rebecca Goldstein titled a novel about an Orthodox Jewish woman’s sexual awakening The Mind-Body Problem. Is there such a “problem” in this memoir, and if so, how would you define it and how is it solved?

About Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of four novels, including Crescent, and two memoirs, Life Without a Recipe and The Language of Baklava. She and her family divide time between Miami, Florida, and Portland, Oregon.

Books by Diana Abu-Jaber

  1. Book CoverArabian Jazz: A Novel

    "This oracular first novel, which unfurls like gossamer [has] characters of a depth seldom found in a debut."—The New YorkerMore

  2. Book CoverBirds of Paradise: A Novel

    “A full-course meal, a rich, complex and memorable story that will leave you lingering gratefully at [Abu-Jaber’s] table.”—Ron Charles, Washington PostMore

  3. Book CoverCrescent: A Novel

    "Abu-Jaber's voluptuous prose features insights into the Arab American community that are wisely, warmly depicted."—San Francisco ChronicleMore