The theme itself isn’t about cultural tastes, food, or even family. It’s more about how a person contributes to your idea of who you are. Here, mom has nurtured the family with taste treats and when she has passed away, nothing tastes good anymore. It’s not the home, but the person who made home a place to connect with others in the family. The theme is how sometimes you have to lose something to realize it’s importance to you.
One of the questions I’ve had about memoir writing is how much I should include about others. Situations are important in understanding who I am and contribute to an overall growth of who I’ve become, but others all play their roles. In a family of seven plus two, others can over complicate our stories so that they become almost unreadable with some many. In fiction, we introduce characters slowly, but in writing bits of first draft memoir, I’ve mentioned people and let them slide away. I think this essay shows the power of showing someone where you imagine them, that acts as a metaphor for their meaning in your life, and at a time when they aided you the most.
Chang-Rae’s use of food helps create someone who is mom, into someone with a wonderful talent and who exists beyond her death into someone who will always flavor his life and support it. So I thought that this was surely a good way to include someone in a memoir, by writing about them doing the thing that meant most to you as you grew up.
What do I know about his mother? She had an ability to make good tasting food. She knew the recipes by memory. She kept the family fed. She helped the family to connect to others by learning the new recipes her son demanded. Someone who would push her son out into a better, independent life via school. She held many duties, acted independently except on a few occasions and played good basketball. That she had given up her son in order to make him succeed.
What do I know about the son? He hid his feelings from his parents. He had an instinctive disregard for women. He assumed he could cook well without ever learning the recipes. He didn’t want to accept his mother might have difficulties. He would give his mother anything she wanted except the same gift she had given him, the help to merge into American society. That he learned how much she mattered to him after she had died. That he learned how painful it was to watch someone die.
What do I know about the father? He and the son share talks about school. He is a great success and mom admires him. That he could cry when his son leaves to go to school.
The story is told in anecdotes about cooking and eating or cooking and not eating. The plot is phased by the son’s desire to avoid his mother’s illness by cooking but hearing it anyway, by being challenged about his cooking and told he didn’t know how to do it right, to the preparation of a great meal, only to have mom not eat, to the reality of her death, to his leaving for school and how she served food to help him adjust and the bad food that followed.