Lessons in Fusion

Prim­rose Madayag Knazan

  • Review
By – April 25, 2022

When six­teen-year-old Cana­di­an food blog­ger Sarah Dayan-Abad, who is of Ashke­nazi Jew­ish and Fil­ip­inx descent, is cho­sen to com­pete on the pan­dem­ic-era vir­tu­al real­i­ty show Cyber Chef, she looks for­ward to shar­ing fusion dish­es, includ­ing twists on her beloved late Baba’s Ashke­nazi Jew­ish recipes. But the show’s staffers have some­thing else in mind; they urge Sarah to focus on Fil­ip­inx recipes.

Although Sarah doesn’t have as much con­nec­tion to that side of her fam­i­ly, hav­ing been raised exclu­sive­ly Jew­ish, she dives into new recipes with the help of her mom’s chef sis­ter, Aunt Cher. Along the way, Sarah uncov­ers insights into her family’s past, includ­ing her mom’s reluc­tance to acknowl­edge her her­itage. As Sarah pro­gress­es on the show, she quick­ly real­izes that her Jew­ish­ness is being for­got­ten, and she feels uncom­fort­able by their focus on cat­e­go­riz­ing and stereo­typ­ing the con­tes­tants. Sarah begins putting the pieces of her past togeth­er and learns what it means to be her true self.

Sarah’s nar­ra­tive is inter­spersed with chap­ters fea­tur­ing the points of view of oth­er char­ac­ters, includ­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers and Cyber Chef staffers. Some offer alter­na­tive per­spec­tives on cir­cum­stances in the book, while oth­ers pro­vide a mul­ti­fac­eted view of past events.

The sto­ry is thought-pro­vok­ing and insight­ful. Sarah’s expe­ri­ences empha­siz­ing the inter­sec­tion of eth­nic­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ty, and iden­ti­ty are uni­ver­sal. Recipes pre­cede each chap­ter, fea­tur­ing Sarah’s descrip­tions and direc­tions. The inte­gra­tion of social media and tech­nol­o­gy amidst the back­drop of the COVID pan­dem­ic offers a cur­rent and cer­tain­ly relat­able context.

Sarah’s jour­ney will engage read­ers who may even be inspired to explore their own fam­i­ly stories.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions