Friday, July 30, 2010

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits


by Ayelet Waldman is available here on Amazon.

I give this book *****

It's been awhile since I've participated in Food for Thought, the bimonthly book review blog hosted by the talented Jain of Once in a Blue Moon and Food With Style. I'm pleased to join in this week to share a book I'd recommend. I read Waldman's book totally unaware of the controversy about this author. My husband, an avid reader of Michael Chabon's works, had picked it up out of curiosity because he noted that Ayelet Waldman was the wife of Michael Chabon. He enjoyed the read, thought I would as well, and passed it along to me.

With the setting in New York City, that fact alone led me to take hold of this novel and jump right in. Once I did, I couldn't put it down. LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS proved to be an interesting read about the all too common drama of contemporary marriages: an office affair which led to a broken family that resulted in shared custody and propelled said guilty party into the role of new wife and stepmom.

I'm not a mom nor a stepmom, and this novel's protagonist was difficult to like in many respects, but the book does offer the reader huge helpings of descriptive passages of Central Park. Considering that Central Park is one of my all time favorite places to spend time, that fact alone won this book five stars from me!

Well written, this interesting story is actually very compelling. Complicated relationships, a second marriage, a precocious know-it-all 5 year old, and the tragic loss of a new born all merge to fill the pages of this book. Emilia, a complex character not easy to like, actually won me over early on. Ayelet Waldman skillfully balances it all with wit, satire, and compassion as she leads the reader down a path of mixed emotions.

Five year old William is as much a devotee of Central Park as Emilia. So I admit again, much of the pleasure of this read for me was that a good part of the story revolves around various ventures into Central Park.

Jack, William's dad and Emilia's now husband, first introduced William to Emilia at the Central Park Zoo, one of William's favorite destinations.

Unlike William, the Central Park Zoo isn't the main attraction of this area of the park in my opinion. For me, it is the Delacorte Clock with its dancing menagerie of whimsical animals. The elephant with his accordion . . .

And the goat with his pan pipes

Both join in with the bear on tambourine, the kangaroo tooting a horn, the hippopotamus with violin, and the penguin on drums. It is here where they all perform a repertoire of nursery rhyme tunes as they glide around the clock each hour and half-hour.

Besides the exquisite and familiar images of Central Park that Waldman conjured up in my mind's eye, there were also plenty of opportunities for Food for Thought. First up there is the reference to Emilia's law school habit of Diet Coke and Raisinettes while studying for exams.

William, the five year old step son, is not only a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, but also suffers from lactose intolerance, or at least his mother (most popular OBGYN in NYC) has convinced him that he does. Waldman offers up comical passages throughout related to this perceived illness. I could easily have gone with any number of references that would appeal to my sweet tooth: strawberry cupcakes or dairy free cupcakes; chocolate sundaes or lactose free ice cream; chocolate cheese cake or rainbow sherbet. Oh, and did I mention little William is also a fan of Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile series? LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE is his favorite book.

Amelia, a Harvard Law grad and an accomplished cook, prizes her time worn copies of ELIZABETH DAVID'S FRENCH PROVINCIAL COOKING and ITALIAN FOOD, which her mom had given her when Amelia left for college. Meals of coq au vin de Bourgogne, or saltimbocca alla Romana were mentioned, and the first meal Amelia cooked for Jack was chilled soup of yellow tomatoes, veal meatballs with artichokes and green olives, and an arugula and fig salad. Dessert was a Meyer lemon cake.

But Amelia, frozen in the fuzzy haze of grief after the death of her infant daughter, hasn't cooked a meal in months. She shops for groceries as if she plans to, but the "plump vegetables, soft ripe cheeses, deep-red wild salmon, organic roasting hens" languish in the refrigerator only to be thrown out by the cleaning service at the end of each week. Chinese take-out substitutes for the nightly fare.

Growing up in a Jewish home is another thread that runs through the pages, and one evening Jack, tired of coming home to take-out dinners, returns home with two bags of groceries intent on preparing his mother's recipe for kibbe. Jack, with his limited cooking experience, begins to forge ahead, a conversation ensues, and Amelia takes over.

So kibbe it is!

Kibbe is a simple dish of ground lamb, bulgur, and spices of cinnamon, allspice, and fresh mint. The meat mixture is formed into torpedo shaped meatballs and baked with olive oil. When served, it is topped with caramelized onions and a mix of pine nuts and dried fruit.

A drizzle of pomegranate molasses tops off the spicy flavors.

Add a side of simple slaw

And another of wild rice with a bit more of the caramelized onions and dried fruit mixture.

Pop the cork on a bottle of red wine . . .

Pour yourself a glass of Merlot . . .

And bite into the savory delight of kibbe.

Though Amelia faces many impossible pursuits along the way, I predict that LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS will warm your heart . . .

And leave you feeling as if you have spent a magical afternoon sailing a little remote controlled boat across the pond in Central Park.

For those of you here for Pink Saturday, this post is dedicated to Isabel, a sweet baby girl angel. I'm also joining Laurie's A Few of My Favorite Things as Central Park, Lyle the Crocodile, and cupcakes are definitely on my favorite things list.
Since LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS is the perfect choice if you are spending a day reading at the beach, poolside, or just curled up in your favorite chair with the AC blasting, this post will link to The Tablescaper's Summer Sundays.

You can click here to see a list of others participating in Food for Thought this week. All credit goes to my personal live in chef for the food prepared in this post.


The summer we married, my husband was in graduate school, and I was employed as a teacher. We took a portion of our savings that summer and purchased a sailboat. We christened our Catalina 22, “Hyacinths For The Soul” after Saadi’s poem. Our "Hyacinths" provided years of pleasure.


  1. Oh Sarah! This is an outstanding review...You have me yearning for this book, a trip to NYC/Central Park & Kibbe! I'd gladly have a serving of wild rice and a glass of Merlot to wash it down. So much detail~ you even have law books in this review!

    We are just home from our family beach trip where we had days of "extreme heat advisory", so curling up in the A/C for a few days with this book sounds like the perfect recipe! Thanks for sharing this review :-)

  2. What a wonderful review and pictures!
    Thank you for your visit, it is alway a pleasure :)

  3. I've been waiting for you to review another book. I can't thank you enough for the recommendation of the Michael Lee West books - I've enjoyed them all!
    My mother made kibbe often when I was growing up, and makes it as a treat when she comes to visit - her heritage is Lebanese. This recipe is different and I think I'd like to give it a try.

  4. Sounds very interesting, Sarah! You gave a really good review complete with amazing photographs and descriptions. I hope you have a nice weekend!..Christine

  5. "Diet Coke and Raisinettes (or chocolate) " Two of the 3 main food groups in my life! What's not to like?! LOL

    All your menu choices are amazing, Sara & so wonderfully presented.
    Do you know I searched high & low for pomegranate molasses last year to make a recipe. Never did find it & finally gave up on trying the recipe.

    What a wonderful review you've given us. You've wet our appetites in many different ways. Thanks!

  6. Hi Sarah,
    I was captivated by your book review today,the food looks wonderful (knowing your chef personally & eaten his food how could I think it would be otherwise?)and the photographs of Central Park are stunning.
    I'll be ordering this book from Amazon for sure.
    Hope your weekend is delightful.

  7. What a great review Sarah! It looks like a very interesting book! I thoroughly plan to start relaxing in August now that my house is almost cleaned from top to bottom and that sounds like the perfect book. I always like when people recommend a good one! You have such a beautiful blog and you are so creative with your posts. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into them. They are well written and visually stunning! I hope you are having a great weekend and a Happy Pink Saturday! Sherri : )

  8. i am so happy to see you back again :-)

    i sooooooo love seeing everyone's recreations... your nyc pics are divine, did you fly to nyc just for us? shh, of course you did! i have never been to nyc, its fun to see pics through your eyes and her words.

    i do have the pallet of a 5 year old...

    well, until i see all the good stuff to come! and i LOVE how you share other books in a book review~

    i have never heard of kibbe, but oh my what fabulous flavor combo's! and then pom drizzle too, FANTASTIC!

    what a fantastic post, i really loved it all, its like reading a good book when we get to SEE, feel and taste your review. i LOVE the sailboat, it conjures up such happy sweet thoughts...

    LOVED your review and food, it can't get any better then this, thanks so much for sharing!

  9. You make this book sound too good to pass up. I'm going to the library on Monday!

  10. I've read the book, it is wonderful. Great photos, Sarah. I love NYC, could easily live there myself. I just became a grandmother to a baby I've been MIA for awhile now. Be back soon & in the groove again.
    Love, Marsha

  11. Sarah, your photos of NYC and Central Park are perfect for this post. Love the musical animal clock photos. The Kibbie looks delicious. I've decided that there is nothing you can't do successfully if you put your mind to it. I'll have to add this good read to my long list of books I want to read. Thank you for linking this great post to Favorite Things Sat. laurie

  12. Dearest Sarah,

    WOW! Your review makes me want to sit quietly for hours and just delve into this story with all of the hidden nooks of these lives your so beautifully describe. AND THE PICTURES OF THE FOOD! I so love Moroccan food. While in Paris, my husband and I ate it for dinner almost every night! I want to thank you so much for coming to leave a message on my blog and on Ruben's. It is always a delight to find a comment from someone new to us, and I am happy that you enjoyed our whimsical fairy worlds. SOmetimes life just needs to be pushed over the edge into an imaginary world to look at reality in a different light. I see that you are retired from education; my husband and I are both teachers, enjoying the summers off together, but I simply can't believe that AUGUST IS HERE! Do enjoy this wonderful month; more books and recipes in the picture for you? ENJOY! And thank you again, please visit again. Anita

  13. Hi Sarah,
    I really enjoyed your review of Waldman. I think the weaving in of personal feelings and information about food and places conjured by reading the book very much livens the review. So I added your blog to my list to check on past and future reviews. Thanks so much for visiting Rattus Scribus.


  14. What a book review! Your photos were beautiful along with your text. Made me feel like I was back in Central Park. I love books with food involved.

  15. Hi always...super fabulous and beautiful! your posts are always full of inspiration..! Wonderful photos too!
    Have a happy day!
    Blessings and magic

  16. Wow, I actually just finished reading this book on my kindle! It was a fast read, and I also recommend it to others.

    Great review!

    Have a wonderful Sunday!

  17. Oh my goodness...what a review and it certainly made me want to read this book. I too, love books that reference places I have visited...namely Central Park. Who knows? .... my son lives in NYC and maybe one day I will be strolling a grand baby in Central Park. What a nice thought and I thank you for that. :) HPS

  18. I declare, Sarah! You have the BEST book reviews of all time! Not only do you leave me wanting to read the book, you make me want to try a new recipe! lol wonderful! I hope you are having a great weekend!..hugs...Debbie

  19. Very nice review! You've made me want to go straight to the book store tomorrow! Nice photography, too.

  20. Oh Sarah, thanks for bringing your review to "Summer Sundays". It sounds lile an outstanding book - love how it's set in NYC!

    - The Tablescaper

  21. Sarah, this is just wonderful! What a great review! Loved all of your photographs that accompanied it as well. Thanks so much for sharing.


    Sheila :-)

  22. If you are interested in reading Ayelet Waldman's new novel, RED HOOK ROAD, for review on your blog please send your contact information to me at acsparks at

  23. That's a charming post. Feels like I read the book! How great is that. Thanks so much for stopping by last week. I was out of town so I'm making the rounds today. Jane F.


Thank you to each of you who take the time to leave a comment. I read and appreciate each and every one and will respond to any questions. Your notes are the only way I know who has stopped in for a visit.