Actress-writer Jaffrey gives us a memoir of her childhood in Delhi in an age and a society that has since disappeared. Madhur (meaning sweet as honey) grew up in a large family compound where her grandfather often presided over dinners with forty or more members of his extended family. Picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint and tucked into freshly baked pooris; sampling the lunch boxes of Muslim friends; sneaking tastes of exotic street fare--such memories flavor Jaffrey's story. Independent, sensitive, and curious, as a young girl she loved uncovering her family's many-layered history, and she was deeply affected by their personal trials and by the devastating consequences of Partition. This is both an account of an unusual childhood and a testament to the power of food to evoke memory. Plus a secret ingredient: more than thirty family recipes.--From publisher description.
Memoirs can be terribly dull unless there's something unique or nostalgic about them. All the reviews on Amazon remarked at how much the book made those from Delhi reminisce fondly about their childhood. For me, I enjoyed the other benefit, an inside look at a world I had no prior experience with. Although it is not intended to be a historical book, Jaffrey is old enough to remember the independence of India and the resultant break with Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was fascinating to read about Delhi's diversity before the split, her choices in attending class in Hindi or Urdu, British or Indian schools. I was happy to have read Midnight's Children to give me a little historical context because it is certainly a region with which I am far from familiar.
The rest of the book focuses on the daily life of her family. It is full of picnics and school and sibling rivalry just like anywhere else, but it is set in the context of a multi-generational upper-class Indian family. Jaffrey grew up amongst her 40 cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandfather, and moved back and forth from the town to the hills according to the season. Servants rush in with baskets of food, cooling drinks of spiced milk, and ripe mangoes. Every chapter is unsurprisingly filled with loving descriptions of food, from feasts to the everyday, and from simple home cooked lunches to food from the bazaar. It makes your mouth water to read it.
I'm sure I would have gotten more out of the book if I were Indian and of a certain age. Nonetheless, I enjoyed immersing myself in a world so different from my own. This book hardly tells a story -- rather, it is a collection of anecdotes in exquisite detail. It would provide invaluable material for anyone writing a novel set in India during that time period. Climbing the Mango Trees certainly contains far more detail about daily life, family interactions, clothes and food than any standard novel focused on plot. This was an enjoyable summer bit of armchair traveling. Just make sure you have your pakoras and chapatis handy.
It was written well enough, and it flows quickly, in its chatty style. The author tells of her early life growing up in India, her family and a bit of background on the history of India, and her family. Laced throughout the story are descriptions of foods that she loved and are part of her heritage.
The book is short, and the style is to jump around and tell stories of each age of the author as she moves from childhood to young adulthood. She talks about her family and their interactions. The whole book is filled with love and fond memories. She does a good job in describing her home, garden, foods and Indian culture, religion and holidays. Of course in such a short work there is not a lot of depth.
One of the problems is that at the start of each chapter there are short phrases that talk about the contents of the chapter. One thread in particular is about a happy-go-lucky Uncle who is loved by all, but has a dark underside, and who ignores his own family. The phrases talk about his bad influence, but the chapters fail to point out the problem. For example the author talks about him accompanying her older sister to NYC and London, on a medical journey. There is nothing more, but somehow this is described as a bad thing. Then the author talks about his family holding her family to blame and banging away at them again and again after the uncle (their father) unexpectedly dies of a drug reaction. Yet there are no examples of this bad feeling between the two branches of the same family, or what the family with the dead father blames the family with the dead uncle for ?
The other major flaw is that the book seems to just stop in the middle. The author may be about to leave for the UK to go to drama school (I think only the scholarship is mentioned, not that she is even going). She is still very young, has not developed her career, her marriage (she mentions she is married, but not how it come about) or why she in now living in the west rather than India. I still don't know who she is, and yet I have read her book. It is almost like she wrote the book but didn't want to reveal any personal information about the adult she was, and has become, and anything too controversial about her family. So she alludes to things but never gives details or skips it entirely.
I am also not a fan of foreign food, so the food described and the recipes listed just filled me with horror.
I also enjoyed learning about the culture of India. The author was born in British ruled India and saw the independence and division of her country and the turmoil that was caused when Pakistan was formed. The story of her close and extended family and what brought them to where they are today was interesting as well.
The book does seem to end somewhat abruptly though, It left me wanting more. I can only hope that she is working on a continuation of her story.
Somewhat interesting memoir about Madhur Jaffrey's childhood in prewar Delhi with a fine description of family history from the Indian Mutiny and following. It gives a very good view of her life in her extended Indian family, both the good and the not so good.
The importance of family ties and of food was well highlighted.
I also appreciated the candor with which she told her family's story. Of course, it was fun drooling over the recipes at the end, as well.