Elissa Altman has eaten a lot of treyf—and loved it. In fact, the first sentence of her book describes her purchase of a 200-pound half of a pig from a seller in Massachusetts, “a nod to food trend and excess more than to need; no couple actually needs half an adult pig.” Throughout the rest of the 304-page book, there is a mention of some kind of pork food product on every other page. It is as if Altman is trying to drive home the point that her childhood was, in fact, treyf.
Altman is a very visual, creative, imaginative soul. She remembers more details about the ‘70s that others might recount from the last week. Her descriptions and scene settings involve incredible amounts of detail — sometimes too much: the embellished recollections of dishes, and waiters’ outfits become distracting at times. Altman painstakingly specifies each meal and how it was cooked, emphasizing her deep connection to her grandmother Gaga’s cooking and how, despite it not being kosher, it connected her to a deep level of Judaism.
In the beginning of the memoir, Altman’s narrative alternates between her parents’ pasts and how they met to her neighborhood and its inhabitants. The Champs-Élysées Promenade and the Marseilles apartment building were clearly defining points in her childhood. It was here that her parents’ friendships, her grandmother’s cooking, and the various personalities to enter her youth molded her life.
Once the stage has been set, Altman gets to the crux of her memoir: her identity as a daughter of parents who shunned their Judaic pasts — possibly even her identity as the daughter of mismatched parents and the granddaughter of a generation of loveless marriages. As the years go by, Altman loses herself and her identity is a blur. She does not feel compelled to pick a career and she isn’t even sure about her own sexuality. Her father, once a temperamental man, becomes a source of support and comfort once he and her mom get divorced. Her grandmother’s cooking, especially her Hungarian goulash, inspires Altman do some of her own experimenting. Depressed, she obsesses over trying out new recipes and recreating the foods of her childhood to revive the feelings of comfort she got from eating with her Gaga.
Altman eventually finds her purpose and realizes she has to carve her own path. She marries her partner, Susan, and together they live a very different life in Connecticut, far from the one she knew in New York. Even so, Altman understands and expresses that her Jewish upbringing, while confusing and conflicting, will forever float through her body and soul.