All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec

The Temporary Bride: A memoir of love and food in Iran
Jennifer Klinec
Virago Press
2014, 270p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“A relationship was a mathematical formula: the correct variables of age, beauty, morality and finances were entered and the output was a successful, peaceful marriage. It couldn’t be, therefore, that their Iranian son could feel desire for someone six years his senior, someone who didn’t come to him pure and untouched. I was an amusing visitor from another world and soon enough I should return to it, fading quietly into an anecdote …”

In her thirties, Jennifer Klinec abandons a corporate job to launch a cooking school from her London flat. Raised in Canada to Hungarian-Croatian parents, she has already travelled to countries most people are fearful of, in search of ancient recipes. Her quest leads her to Iran where, hair discreetly covered and eyes modest, she is introduced to a local woman who will teach her the secrets of the Persian kitchen.

Vahid is suspicious of the strange foreigner who turns up in his mother’s kitchen; he is unused to seeing an independent woman. But a compelling attraction pulls them together and then pits them against harsh Iranian laws and customs. 

Getting under the skin of one of the most complex and fascinating nations on earth, The Temporary Bride is a soaring story of being loved, being fed, and the struggle to belong.

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book but I knew I had to read it. I couldn’t find it anywhere locally and my library didn’t have it either so I ended up ordering it from overseas. I read it before I got sick but I’m so behind in reviews that I’m only just getting around to writing this, almost three weeks later.

This is a memoir of a woman named Jennifer who lives in London who ditches her boring corporate job to launch an intimate cooking school in her flat. She sources all the ingredients and designs the menus herself and people pay to come and learn how to cook interesting dishes. She’s always looking for ways to absorb more food knowledge and tries to travel extensively learning about the food of different nations. But when she goes to Iran, her life changes.

I’ve only read a few books set in Iran so I was really interested to learn some more about the dynamics and culture. Iran is a fascinating place to read about, it has been through a lot of changes in the past 50/60 years and its fair share of wars, economic recession and civilian oppression. I loved Jennifer’s portrayal of her time there, learning local dishes from a woman who would eventually become her mother-in-law. It actually gave me what I thought was a very clear picture of what it might be like to travel through Iran.

I’m not overly sure about the relationship however. It reads as somewhat awkward – Vahid tends to say whatever pops into his head perhaps because English is his second language and he doesn’t understand what’s tactful, perhaps because he’s a man and he can say whatever he likes, I’m not sure. There are times when he insults Jennifer quite horribly and it’s clear he’s very confused by the sorts of feelings he’s having toward her. He’s a virgin, as is traditional there until marriage and she isn’t, which is an interesting dynamic. There were times when I thought some of their interactions were quite sweet and other times when I was like why is she doing this? What on Earth does she see in this guy? She doesn’t seem to really give him much thought in that way until he begins to query his weirdness around her (which I think is supposed to perhaps be sexual desire). I would’ve also liked a bit more in depth talk about their culture divide, because that’s glossed over quite a bit, especially in the latter part of the book when it becomes clear that they’re not just temporary. The title of the book comes from a sort of marriage in Iran that allows a man to take someone to wife for a specified time and then dissolve it, which they undergo in order to be able to travel together and spend time together unchaperoned. Some parts of the country are more conservative than others and even after this temporary marriage is granted, they are often stopped and questioned extensively by police as to why they’re together and what they’re doing in public.

I loved the food components of this and also Jennifer’s talk about her childhood. She had a very interesting one, living on her own in different countries from a very early age and teaching herself to cook different meals. Her love of food is something that really dominates this book and I love reading about food, watching cooking shows etc so that part was really fantastic for me. There’s lots of descriptions and talking about food and I admired her for changing her life and doing something she’s really passionate about and also having that mindset where she’s always wanting to learn more, explore different cultures and their dishes.

But I think I wanted the same level of devotion to her relationship. Eventually Vahid moves to England after some time of her returning to Iran and also the two meeting in different countries and that covers like a paragraph in the book (the epilogue) when I really would’ve liked to read more about their situations being reversed and him being in the new place with very different ways of life to what he was familiar with. I know it is her story, rather than his but I think it’s something that would’ve been interesting. The journey of him coming to live with her in England permanently.

Still, I really enjoyed this. Gave me I felt, quite an interesting insight into life in present day Iran from the point of view of a Westerner and also Jennifer’s obvious devotion to food and preparing it.

7/10

Book #179 of 2017

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