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August 14, 2005|Susan Salter Reynolds

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Language

of the Geckos

and Other Stories

Gary Pak

University of Washington Press: 184 pp., $18.95

MAGICAL realism, Hawaiian-style. In "Language of the Geckos," Gary Pak illuminates the lives of ordinary Hawaiians of Asian descent -- Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese.

Pak, who grew up in Hawaii, "breathing of the land and sea," writes in the preface that these nine stories are a reaction to the islands' colonial past and are intended for his young son, "to create stories that will be a part of a culture that he can claim rightfully as his, something that no one can take away from him."

They are full of ghosts and regrets and empty houses with talking mirrors. The characters strive: to get ahead, to get married, to have a child. They make frequent mistakes -- and misjudgments that they blame on some aspect of their heritage -- their Korean or Philippine blood, for example.

They are confused, cut off from their own instincts. "I dunno," says one character, "I was driving when da buggah jus' wen ma-ke on me." "Everything wen go." They read like a storyteller's message, even as a warning to the next generation.

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The Perfect Egg

and Other Secrets

Aldo Buzzi, translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman

Bloomsbury: 160 pp., $16.95

"IN the days when each family baked its own bread at home," architect and essayist Aldo Buzzi writes in "The Perfect Egg," "the expression 'time is money' had not yet spread, like a dark cloud, above the horizon."

These muscular essays on food, eating, hunger, memory and other culinary habits were penned in 1979 by Buzzi, who writes more like Jim Harrison than M.F.K. Fisher.

Buzzi satisfies his own curiosity and propounds his sense of decorum, of what is excessive, of perfection and the fundamentals of certain recipes: omelets, \o7sopa de lima \f7(lime soup) and spaghetti Bolognese (overcooked). Then there are dishes he remembers most fondly: buttered salsify (and the proper context in which to eat it), stuffed pigeon and rabbit stew. Each recipe, from a simple salad to graveyard stew, includes more than basic ingredients. Ocean breezes, clean napkins and a warm wooden floor all play their parts in the final meal.

Buzzi, who relies heavily on the great Greek and Roman cooks Suetonius, Archestratus and Apicius and gourmands such as Vitellius, also quotes Colette: "A work of art is always an adventure: The omelet does not escape this rule." Above all, he writes, "High spirits at table are a vital requisite for good digestion."

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Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home

Life on the Page

Lynn Freed

Harcourt: 232 pp., $22

"I grew up in the middle of a sizable city in a large Anglo-Jewish, quasi-Bohemian, quasi-Victorian household of family and servants and dogs," writes Lynn Freed who, in her heart, it seems, never really left her childhood home in South Africa.

Through short stories, articles, three novels and now the memoir "Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home," Freed still is writing for her mother, still expecting the question her actress parent so often asked: "But why should I care about this person, whoever it is?"

She displays bravado about the importance of ruthlessness in writing, of "taking on the living," about the fun of "rearranging life with words."

Without rancor, Freed candidly explains how life interferes with writing (having to work as a teacher and as a travel agent, in part to help defray the costs of her annual trips to South Africa); of trying to please editors (who didn't want a sequel to her first book, "Home Ground"; she wrote one anyway); and of having a family. She is terse on this subject, perhaps because her childhood and her parents still hold more fascination for her than the present.

"The sources of fiction are myriad and complex," she writes. "A character, a character in a situation, a phrase, a scene, a setting, a smell -- anything at all but an idea attached to an intention."

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