I have a problem.
I was waiting for a few audiobooks to become available from my library, but apparently I just couldn’t wait, despite having a backlog of podcast episodes I want to listen to. As I was looking through OverDrive, this book by Padma Lakshmi popped up and I impulsively downloaded it.
I’m not sure what I thought this book was, but I definitely thought it was something other than what it is…
Lakshmi started out talking about Salman Rushdie, and as soon as she did, I was like, “Wait, this is about that relationship?!!!”
I read Joseph Anton by Rushdie when it came out several years ago and he had nothing good to say about Lakshmi, his fourth wife. Since he spoke well of his other ex-wives, I thought Lakshmi was a real piece of work. So when I realized that’s who I was listening to (she narrates it herself) I seriously considered bailing on the audiobook.
But there are two sides to every marriage and I decided to give Lakshmi a chance before judging her, despite the fact that a number of online reviewers said they didn’t like the book because they didn’t like Lakshmi.
First of all, she’s a food lover. I’ve always been a foodie myself, although I’ve never been one to watch the cooking shows, like Top Chef, where she was a judge and gained a lot of recognition. I loved her tales of her early childhood in India where the women ruled the kitchen and Lakshmi and her cousin would sneak in at night to make themselves their favorite snacks. I’ve never been one to handle spicy food very well, but she made the Indian food of her childhood sound so delicious, even I was getting nostalgic for it.
As far as her marriage to Rushdie is concerned, I was mostly confused when I finished this book. Obviously each party is going to try to put themselves in the best possible light, but it sounded like they were talking about two completely different relationships. Rushdie painted Lakshmi as a spoiled princess who never wanted to lift a finger to do anything. By contrast, Lakshmi talks about trying to redefine herself as she reached her late twenties and the modeling gigs started drying up, but she claimed Rushdie was never supportive of her career opportunities. That’s not to say she didn’t admit to her own faults and mistakes in the relationship, but I couldn’t help but try to reconcile the two accounts of that marriage to find the common ground. As near as I can tell, they both agree they were married and lived in New York for a few years and then divorced. That’s it.
But that’s just the first part of the book. After that, Lakshmi goes on to talk about other aspects of her life, switching back and forth from her childhood to adulthood as she tried to make connections between how events in her childhood affected her feelings and choices as an adult. Food played a major role throughout – how comforting food can be (both cooking and eating), and how wonderful local farmers’ markets are (which I can totally relate to because I look forward to my own farmers’ market every year).
She also discussed how her relationship to food and her body changed throughout her life, how comforting food can be when you’re going through a tough time, and the things you’re supposed to eat and avoid when you’re pregnant and nursing. I even liked her admission that she had some friends save her placenta, cook, dehydrate, and fill capsules with it so she could take it like a pill to help ward off postpartum depression. I don’t know if that works, but I do know eating the placenta after birth is a common tradition is some cultures.
I also loved the Hindu tradition of making a big deal about the first solid food a baby eats after breast feeding. They make a big ceremony out of it and they’re very specific about what the baby should eat first because they believe it will define their relationship with food for the rest of their lives. Again, I don’t know if that’s true, but as a food lover, I’m not willing to write it off.
Lakshmi is far from perfect and I don’t think she tries to present herself as perfect in this book. She owns up to her mistakes and the fact that she hurt people she cared about, sometimes including herself. Overall I liked her and I liked this audiobook.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that turned out to be something other than you thought?