This post is a bit of a change of pace for the blog, reviewing a memoir rather than a restaurant or recipe. The author of The Temporary Bride, Jennifer Klinec, contacted me and asked if I’d like to review it here (yes this means I received it as a gift, but rest assured this review is my own opinion) . Jennifer is Canadian of Croatian descent and travelled the world for quite a while, settling (coincidentally) both in South Dublin, near where I grew up, and Clerkenwell in London, where I lived. She set up a cookery school in London after escaping the corporate world, and travelled to different countries in the Middle East to learn to cook traditional food. When she travelled to Iran, she found herself drawn to the son of the woman teaching her to cook, and, as you can probably guess from the title, temporarily married him
I thought a lot about this book, and writing this review. I haven’t reviewed a book since English class circa 2001 and it’s not an area I feel very comfortable in, which is odd since I’m a compulsive reader. I also struggled a bit with this book, and it took me a fair bit of work to realise why; I was trying to turn it into something it’s not meant to be. By way of background, I studied public international law, and so when I think of Iran, I think about it through a certain prism. I tend to read about it from the perspective of activists, international relations experts, and journalists. The two Iranian people I have actually met were both people damaged by the regime, an academic desperate to leave but unable to abandon his ageing parents, and a student who protested in the 2009 uprising, was imprisoned, and saw his friends executed before fleeing.
But the politics or morality of the Iranian regime not what the Temporary Bride is meant to be about and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s about everyday life, for ordinary people, in an extraordinary country. This is a book about food, and travel and identity, and it does what it says on the tin.
At first, I found it challenging to get into, it struck me as slightly ‘Eat Pray Love’ and I found some romanticising of arranged marriages and patriarchal control a little difficult to stomach. But as the author settles into Iran, the book relaxes into it’s style and subject, and captures the culture and the people beautifully. It seems like a complex society to get a handle on, and the extent that Jennifer manages to understand it and integrate into in a short period of time is impressive. Although it is of course about romantic love, a consistent theme of the book is the authors love of food. She describes food in evocative, glorious detail, and her pleasure in remembering those experiences shines through from the page. You want to try everything she describes, even kalleh pacheh, the mutton head stew she gets up at 5am to eat. I would have loved to see some recipes worked into this book Like Water for Chocolate style but that’s just me.
I don’t think it is possible to read The Temporary Bride, and not want to visit Iran. The descriptions of beautiful cities, bakeries, little courtyard gardens and bergamot forests are enchanting. At the same time, Jennifer’s relationship with Vahid throws the complete culture shock of the experience into sharp relief. The limitations, constant vigilance and caution feel stifling to read about, and make for compelling reading. The claustrophobic control of the police state and societal opprobrium does weigh heavily as the relationship develops. I found it interesting how well she adapted to the boundaries, having described her childhood and adolescent as particularly unrestrained and free. The solution which they come to, a temporary marriage, is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, and gives an interestingly pragmatic sheen to the otherwise dogmatic approach to sexuality of the authorities which control their relationship.
Ultimately, the book provides an insightful, and atmospheric look at a country that doesn’t often get an outsiders perspective.