• Review
By – May 3, 2016

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.

Vis­it­ing Scribe: Elis­sa Altman

Treyf Comes to Maine

Mem­oir and Kindness

Libi is a first-time mom liv­ing in New Jer­sey. She works in fundrais­ing and events at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty and is pur­su­ing a master’s degree in Marketing.

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