Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes) (Hardcover)
One of Booklist's Must Read Nonfiction picks of 2019
The acclaimed author of A Replacement Life shifts between heartbreak and humor in this gorgeously told, recipe-filled memoir. A family story, an immigrant story, a love story, and an epic meal, Savage Feast explores the challenges of navigating two cultures from an unusual angle.
A revealing personal story and family memoir told through meals and recipes, Savage Feast begins with Boris’s childhood in Soviet Belarus, where good food was often worth more than money. He describes the unlikely dish that brought his parents together and how years of Holocaust hunger left his grandmother so obsessed with bread that she always kept five loaves on hand. She was the stove magician and Boris’ grandfather the master black marketer who supplied her, evading at least one firing squad on the way. These spoils kept Boris’ family—Jews who lived under threat of discrimination and violence—provided-for and protected.
Despite its abundance, food becomes even more important in America, which Boris’ family reaches after an emigration through Vienna and Rome filled with marvel, despair, and bratwurst. How to remain connected to one’s roots while shedding their trauma? The ambrosial cooking of Oksana, Boris’s grandfather’s Ukrainian home aide, begins to show him the way. His quest takes him to a farm in the Hudson River Valley, the kitchen of a Russian restaurant on the Lower East Side, a Native American reservation in South Dakota, and back to Oksana’s kitchen in Brooklyn. His relationships with women—troubled, he realizes, for reasons that go back many generations—unfold concurrently, finally bringing him, after many misadventures, to an American soulmate.
Savage Feast is Boris’ tribute to food, that secret passage to an intimate conversation about identity, belonging, family, displacement, and love.
About the Author
Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, the London Review of Books, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian, among other publications. He is the author of the novels A Replacement Life, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, and Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He teaches in Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and lives in New York City.
“A tightly written page-turner about the author’s childhood in Minsk, his extended family and their odyssey from Belarus to New York (via Vienna and Rome in the 1980s) as well as his efforts to conquer his own demons. While reading it, I was frequently tempted to head to the kitchen and fry some onions, the step that starts many of the Eastern European recipes in his book.”
— Florence Fabricant, New York Times, “Front Burner”
“…a work of reminiscence and celebration that should appeal to a wide range of readers. If you like books about affectionate, colorful families, imagine Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers mixed with Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen. If you’re a fan of food memoirs, you’ll want to shelve it near M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating and A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals …The accounts of raucous, argument-filled holiday dinners are hilariously familiar… [A] smorgasbord of humor, pathos and emotional insight. I very much enjoyed Savage Feast, and so will you.”
— Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Enthusiastic meals are the language of [this] book, the waypoints and transitions, the narrative beats and instigative sparks that drive the storytelling. The meals are fantastic….Many of the best parts of this book will be familiar to readers of Fishman’s work..— in other words, telling stories about your family. But here there’s a more straightforward desire for connection and a much less post-modern quest to find someone to eat with.”
— New York Times Book Review
“Mr. Fishman’s story—as a refugee, a seeker and an insatiable eater—is inherently compelling. But the book’s brilliance lies in the author’s self-awareness and honest appraisal of his, and his family’s, shortcomings. By the last third of the book it is nearly impossible not to be rooting for the author. Mr. Fishman’s struggles and triumphs are uniquely his own, but his most primal desires are universal: to be seen and understood by loved ones, and to eat like a czar.”
— Wall Street Journal
“Terrifically nuanced and multidimensional…I’ve been reading every food memoir available, including those by Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton, Ruth Reichl, Michael Pollan, Samin Nosrat, Michael Twitty, and now Boris Fishman. His is the most focused and most multilayered of these wonderful books.”
— Panthea Reid, Philadelphia Inquirer
“As Fishman suggests with this profusion of stories, all feasts are savage, in the sense that cuisine, like culture, is ultimately wild, feral, untamed.”
“Mapped in recipes, a savage landscape of Jewish hunger…Boris Fishman brings the fraught role of food in Jewish culture to evocative life in his new memoir…Suspended between his Soviet childhood — Fishman was nine when his family left Minsk — and an American life from which he feels fundamentally distant, the home Fishman eventually finds is in food…Really, what it comes down to, is a hunger for something like truth. A true identity. A true relationship. A true understanding of his family’s history, and the ways it must and must not form his life.”
— The Forward
“Fishman’s writing is brisk and vivid, and despite generations’ worth of trauma the family suffered, from pervasive anti-Semitism to the brutalities of World War II, his memoir is often funny... This book departs from other memoirs: Most chapters end with detailed recipes, adding a lovely, homey dimension.”
“This delightful, recipe-filled memoir from novelist Fishman follows his Jewish family—and their richly-described dinner tables—across three generations, from 1945 Belarus to 2017 Brooklyn…Fishman’s immigrant saga masterfully evokes a family that survives, united by food…There’s a large web of characters and anecdotes, but Fishman grounds the narrative with his witty prose and well-translated family recipes.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Central to Fishman’s insightful, absorbing memoir is hunger…The trauma of cultural loss, shared by many immigrants, was assuaged by his grandfather’s home health aide, whose recipes for potato latkes, stuffed cabbage, braised rabbit, liver pie, and scores more make the memoir a succulent treat… A graceful memoir recounting a family’s stories with candor and sensitivity.”
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“This beautifully written memoir is a wonderful story about family, love, and connecting with your roots.”
— Library Journal
“Vibrant…It’s easy to feel at home in Fishman’s writing; it’s warm, reflective and frequently funny…Even more than a story of hunger, this is a story of love. Love of family and companionship. Love of romance and lore. Love of garlic, fish and the feeling of finally learning to identify and satisfy the simple but crucial loves for which everyone hungers.”
— Shelf Awareness
“This rich, memorable exploration of immigrant identity, culture clash and Soviet cuisine will linger long after the book has been closed or the last of the dishes within have been served.”
— Shelf Talker
“If you aren’t hungry when you start reading this book, you will be by the time you’ve finished.”
“I find myself at home in the buoyant brouhaha of Boris Fishman’s family. And for all I know, he and I may be distant cousins. In prose as visceral and tightly coiled as the best poetry, Savage Feast assures me we are bound by the part of the self that is healed, coaxed, chastened and captivated by even the memory of a good meal.”
— Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner
“Given his literary gifts, his intelligence, his keen sense of humor, and his fascinating immigrant family history, it would have been a crime if Boris Fishman had not written this book. Like all good recipes, the ones in these pages will give you cravings, but the story itself could not be more satisfying. A superb memoir—artful, ambitious, deeply soulful, often hilarious—by one of our cleverest and most original writers.”
— Sigrid Nunez, author of THE FRIEND, National Book Award Winner
“Rabelaisian in appetite but Chekhovian in its spare and keen psychological detail, this marvelous memoir of family, exile, breakup, and one prodigious cook named Oksana sets a new standard for literary gastronomic writing. Even the recipes—who wouldn’t salivate over garlicky peppers marinated in buckwheat honey?—are as surprising and fresh as Fishman’s prose.”
— Anya Von Bremzen, James Beard Award-winning author of THE ART OF SOVIET COOKING