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.
In Be My Guest, Priya Basil offers a rich meditation on the nature of hospitality, inviting readers to question the relationship between host and guest and to examine the philosophical contradictions at play ... Food provides the backdrop to candid musings on hospitality, community and race. Basil, born to a British Sikh family, grew up in Kenya before returning to England as a young adult and then settling in Germany ... Philosophical and political passages are balanced with lighter observations about mealtime behaviours: the instinct to choose the same dish to stave off disappointment; the tendency to gorge on a new food; the ways we negotiate the taking of the last portion ... The root of 'hospitality', Priya Basil learns, comes from the ancient Indo-European word ghosti, meaning host, guest and stranger simultaneously.