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Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India    by Madhur Jaffrey order for
Climbing the Mango Trees
by Madhur Jaffrey
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Madhur Jaffrey, who is both an actress and a cookbook author, has written a tribute to her family in this affecting memoir of her youth in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jaffrey writes about growing up in a large, privileged family in her grandfather's household, surrounded by numerous aunts, uncles and cousins in India. Jaffrey tells of her volatile uncle Shibbudada, whose affections the cousins were always trying to win. She writes as lovingly of her beautiful sisters and mother as she does of the smells and tastes of the Indian food that defined her childhood. The picnics in the Himalayas, the huge family dinners, the lunch tiffins packed with delicacies, are evocatively described.

She lived through Partition, where loyalties of her Hindu and Muslim friendships were tested. Her teenage years were as typical as those of any modern teenager, with her fears, her crushes, her feelings of being an outcast.

Jaffrey conjours up very vivid sensory memories that challenge all the reader's senses, especially smell and taste. The book ends when she first comes to America at a young girl in her twenties. I was left wondering how she became an actress and a chef, but as Jeffrey is now in her 70s, she may have left her story open for a follow-up memoir.

Climbing the Mango Trees is for food aficionados but also for people who are interested in Indian culture and life. Other memoirs for foodies that I would highly recommend, perhaps even more than Jaffrey's book, are Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples and Tender to the Bone. As a treat, Jaffrey includes many family Indian recipes at the end of the book, as well as photos of her beloved family members.

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