A meditation on food, family, identity, immigration, and, most of all, hospitality--at the table and beyond--that's part food memoir, part appeal for more authentic decency in our daily worlds, and in the world at large.
Reading this slender, rich exploration of what it means to cook for others is like pulling up a chair at the ideal dinner party. The food is mouth-watering – creamy curries, candied baobab seeds, fat slices of homemade pizza – but just as nourishing is the conversation, which embraces hospitality in its many guises, from the strained welcome received by Syrian refugees in the author’s adoptive Germany to the langar, a free meal served in Sikh temples ... Add a pinch of Derrida and a slug of retro pop culture, and you’ve got an irresistible amuse-bouche.
Basil moves from childhood domesticity — Mumji, her own cute greediness, her mother’s precious kadhi — to wider public issues, interrogating each in the context of hospitality: democracy, climate change, immigration, religion, food waste and Brexit, to name a few ... If we could learn to love beyond the narrow compounds of our own communities, we would become more hospitable creatures. Borders would crumble, resources would be shared and nobody would starve — these are the logical results of universal unconditional hospitality. In other words, if the whole world digested Be My .Guest, we’d be OK ... It won’t happen, of course, and Basil doesn’t pretend that it will. Chauvinists, xenophobes, climate change deniers— inhospitable people the world over — will detest her compellingly beautiful book. From certain angles, her quest looks like hard work. At times, I wondered if Basil ever gets tired of such moral vigilance and longs to sneak off for a small bacon sandwich. But I doubt it overall. Her choices don’t feel like chores. There is — I gather from her book — deep happiness to be unearthed along the way.
For anyone who enjoyed the travelogues of Anthony Bourdain, Be My Guest is a deeper and weightier exposition of the themes he explored—starting with food and extending to the movements of governments, and the meaning of self and other—and Basil similarly shares the joys of both writing and eating ... Interwoven with these richly textured memories are personal, sometimes self-deprecating, observations on her own relationships with these women, and their choice foods ... Her own background provides plenty of fodder...which she mines very successfully ... Basil’s candor and depth of examination and feeling, along with her moving turns of phrase, is compelling.