me in a book!

Not really. Just Marcus Samuelsson, whose life experiences are similar to mine in the strangest and simplest of ways. I’ll be writing a formal review when I actually finish the book (46% currently; thanks for the ARC, NetGalley!), but since I have a feeling that review could quickly turn into just an ode to reading, I’ll do that now.

Reading is amazing when all of a sudden you find yourself in a book. I’m taking a course on developing collections for children this summer, and the other day my professor asked if we had ever read a book that really deeply affected us in a significant, life-changing way, and I really couldn’t think of that. I’m sure there has been something–I also have this problem when I consider whether or not I have any mentors or role models, and because I don’t think of things in those terms, I say no, but really I do have people who fit those roles in my life–but I racked my brain and could not call up a thing.

This book might be that one. A chef’s memoir that is superbly written and also that deals with issues of race and class in a way that is amazing, Yes, Chef makes me so happy not just because nearly every “page” makes me smile with recognition but also because I know that, because of Samuelsson’s fame, lots of different people will read it. And that makes me happy not just because he deserves the fans and praise, but I think it’s great because he’s giving a voice to the many other intelligent, intellectual PoC who are admonished when they try to explain how white privilege and racism have affected their lives.

Quick notes: Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia. When his mother died of tuberculosis, he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple who was also raising (as a foster child) a biracial girl. Right there, connections to my life! Transracial adoption! Mixed sibling already in the mix! And as Samuelsson goes through his life and career, he is always cognizant of how his race affects his perceptions of others and their perceptions of him, and he deals with feelings of outsiderness whether he’s home or not. The way he addresses this stuff is casual but smart, serious but not shoved down your throat, which is how experiences of race actually are for a lot of people of color, especially those who come from mixed or adoptive families.

When I started getting noticeably giddy (keep in mind I don’t show my emotion usually, and that I am sitting, pantsless, on my bed, in the apartment where I live alone, reading on my Kindle) during one chapter, I knew I had to write this even before I finished the book. Because I got to the part where Samuelsson is living in New York and in the most wonderful stroke of fate meets two other black-Swedish men, and I was so happy for him because I know exactly how it feels to find someone who knows your crosscultural experience so intimately that you don’t need to say anything. (I have written about this probably multiple times before, like when I discussed it in the context of a book I had read.) I really wanted to cheer or cry, and that’s partly because I’m taking a bunch of drugs (prescribed) that make my emotions cray cray, but also because you don’t know until you are repeatedly and compoundedly forced into always being just different enough, like you are when you are the wrong race for your country, and then the wrong country for your job and still the wrong race, and then the wrong language, and then the right language but the wrong race, and so on and so on. It’s exhausting.

So I read that part, where he says

None of us talked about it–we were guys, after all–but we all felt freer in New York than we had at home; we were no longer such oddballs. We all had other black friends and other people of color as friends and everybody did his thing. Everything we moved to New York for was happening for us: diversity, music, excitement, creativity (n.p., 46% on Kindle)

And had to stop, because I just got it, right then. Well, I already got that, but it was realizing that that, right there was an actual verbalization of why I travel as much as possible, why I apply for new jobs and opportunities all the time, why no matter how much I want to settle down I also don’t and can’t. I know that in a way, that’s what we are all looking for, regardless of color or background or experience. But it’s also very specifically what people like me and Marcus Samuelsson have been searching for (and been largely denied, explicitly and implicitly and unavoidably and painfully) our entire lives.

And isn’t that genius, to get that all through in that short little paragraph?

Oh, I love this book already. Read it read it read it, all of you. And then go and look for the book that will do what this book did to me to you.

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4 thoughts on “me in a book!

  1. “that, right there was an actual verbalization of why I travel as much as possible, why I apply for new jobs and opportunities all the time, why no matter how much I want to settle down I also don’t and can’t.”

    for obvious and well discussed reasons, this speaks to me!

  2. Yes, yes, yes! This isn’t the only reason we read, obvs, but it’s such a huge (and gratifying one). I remember when I read William Goyen’s HOUSE OF BREATH, which was the first book that ever made me feel that where I’m from (East Texas) is beautiful. One of the best compliments I ever got from a reader was something along the lines of, “OMG, you have totally been reading my diary because this is how I feel about EVERYTHING.” Both WHAT CAN’T WAIT and THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY were written in hopes of offering that experience to readers that don’t often feel that particular connection to books.

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