For many, cooking is simply the mechanical act of reproducing standard recipes. To Maryse Condé, however, cooking implies creativity and personal invention, on par with the complexity of writing a story. Condé takes us on a literary journey around places she has traveled to in India, Indonesia, and South Africa.
Adeptly translated ... In much the same way that her fiction has acted as a form of resistance to what she sees as the limitations of postcolonial literature, Condé’s cooking initially emerged as an act of defiance against the fussy strictness of her mother, who asserted that 'only stupid people like to cook' ... Her food writing can also be seen as a rebellion against the tropes attached to that genre ... Neither does Condé bathe food in the romantic light that renders it a clichéd symbol of nostalgia or exoticism. In fact, she avoids romanticization almost entirely...she can be unforgivingly critical ... Condé has theorized about what she terms 'literary cannibalism,' and in the kitchen she practices what might be called 'culinary cannibalism.' These metaphorical acts allow both Condé’s writing and her food to transcend national or cultural delineation ... presents an alternative to the standard culinary memoir, committing an even greater 'crime of treason' than that of comparing writing to cooking: She asserts food writing’s rightful place among the literary arts. Both the genre and its readers are all the richer for it.
... a lightheartedly grand and gossipy memoir in meals. The genre might seem insubstantial fare for a writer of Condé’s stature, and she knows it, slyly opening with her publisher’s pearl-clutching refusal to consider the book of recipes she initially proposed ... She brings the same transgressive spirit to the book’s mélange of cooking and literature ... The book is more travelogue than gastronomic treatise ... The book’s great pleasure is how frankly Condé, a one-woman dinner party, holds forth on everywhere she’s been and everyone she’s met ... There’s plenty of dishing throughout ... Cuisine becomes a model for the intuitive allergies and affinities that govern interpersonal relations—and indeed, for the cosmopolitan writer, tasked with adapting the tastiest morsels from every milieu.
There is no clear through line connecting the disparate incidents she relates. Instead, the reader is treated to a series of reflections on the role of food in the author’s life, interspersed with observations from her travels ... [Condé] rarely gives dates and often leaves out context, lending the book a dreamlike quality ... In other respects, Of Morsels leaves the reader hungry. This is a memoir of stunning emotional reticence. As a rule, Condé speeds past her own motivations and emotions. There are exceptions ... She is also painfully honest, if terse, in describing her relationship with her son, Denis ... a puzzle with a missing piece, and that piece is to be found in Victoire: My mother’s mother, a novelistic reconstruction of the life of a grandmother who died long before Condé’s birth ... Of Morsels and Marvels, with its frustratingly absent emotional core, suggests that Condé is like Victoire not only in the boundless creativity of her expression, but also in its limits. When it comes to the author’s own heartbreak and regret for the ways she hurt her son, words fail her. And, just as her grandmother might have done, she fills the silence with dish after dish.