I met Nandita Godbole, author of Not for You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods a few years ago through a mutual friend and enjoyed her book of recipes, A Dozen Ways To Celebrate: Twelve Complete Indian Feasts. So, when she announced the upcoming publication of this two-part, novel-cum-cookbook earlier this year, I was intrigued.
As a beta reader, I got a glimpse into the lives of Moti-ba and her granddaughter Johari, whose stories shape the first two chapters of the book. I eagerly awaited the final version of Not for You because I was curious to see what would become of these women and their lineage.
Here’s a snippet about the book from Nandita’s website:
Love. Marriage. Denial. Crisis. Fear. Abandonment. Determination. Food. Comfort. Home.
Johari-ba, Ratanlal and Shanta, Damodar and Pearl, Thakor and Mani, Shaku and Bandu, Ana and Ravi lived in different eras, in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. Their lives intersect together over time. They struggled for identity with a single-minded determination to persevere in the face of denial. They lived, married and bore children, carrying the scars and the stories of the generations before them.
What happened when they married, moved and migrated?
How did new regions, cuisines or communities influence their food?
What stories do their recipes reveal?
How did ‘denial’ change them and their definitions of comfort food?
What events curated their family’s culinary heritage?
In this first part, the characters struggle to define home. Johari and her son, Thakor, learn to navigate village life in Gujarat; Ratanlal and his wife, Shanta are nomads, traversing the state of Madhya Pradesh; Damodar, a Brahmin, marries a Jewish girl, Pearl and they settle down in pre-independence India.
Although the book weaves together diverse geographies and eras, the scenes are very well-crafted and the narrative grounds you in place and time. The tender moments between Ratanlal and Shanta are fresh and charming; the gravity of Pearl’s despair at her family’s opposition of her inter-religious marriage is palpable. In the most challenging of circumstances, these characters forge ahead to create their destinies. Place, almost a character itself, aids and often hinders their pursuits, while the food, unique to each region, serves as their balm.
Not for You reminds me of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing in the way it weaves together generational narratives. The language is beautiful, without being decorative. I made the Daal and Chaas recipes and they were easy to prepare and tasty. If there was one thing I would have wished for to be different, it would be a family tree to help the reader keep track of the various characters. All in all, Not for You is a lovely book and I’m looking forward to reading the second part.