Thank You to Twelve Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Jennifer Klinec's memoir, The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Canadian Jennifer Klinec has always had wanderlust. She moves to London, working a high paying corporate job, yet she spends all of her money and time traveling, taking off to far-flung destinations every weekend. Another passion is Klinec's love of food. She makes a bold decision by quitting her job and marrying her passions; Klinec starts a culinary class in her home where she teaches exotic recipes from around the world to small groups of curious Londoners. As part of her on-going education, Klinec books a trip to Iran to learn about Persian cooking. Soon after she arrives, she meets a young man named Vahid. Vahid invites her to his home, where she cooks alongside his mother, learning family recipes.
Vahid and Klinec come from completely different backgrounds; they have differences in age, religion, culture...yet, they develop a romance. It is very dangerous for them to have an open relationship in Iran, and when keeping secret proves difficult, they come up with another possible solution, a temporary marriage. In Iran, they can arrange to be legally married for a pre-determined amount of time, which will allow them to be a couple until Klinec's visa expires. This solution should stop police harassment, but will also allow Vahid, an unmarried-virgin, to save-face in the eyes of his family and community. Can this arrangement really work?
LIKE - Klinec's memoir is half food-porn and half a love story. She has these lush sensory filled descriptions of food and cooking. Your mouth will water for things that you've never even heard of, let alone tasted. I have friends from Iran and I enjoy Persian food, but Klinec's memoir gave me a much deeper look into the country and its culture. I was mesmerized by all of the ingredients that are not normally used in American cooking, such as rose water and dates. On the flip side of this, there are also rather grotesque descriptions of a camel slaughterhouse. I was intrigued and repulsed at the same time. It made a big enough impression that after reading that chapter in afternoon, the beef on my dinner plate went untouched. Steel yourself. My biggest impression with food and Iran, is that it's a culture where things are still made by hand and with great care, the opposite to our fast-food/convenience culture in America.
The love story was unexpected, even though it is stated right in the title of the book. I think it may have been unexpected for Klinec as well, as Vahid does not come across as an immediate romantic prospect. Their obvious differences aside, the initial impressions of Vahid are of someone who is moody and aloof, contrasting with Klinec's open and friendly demeanor. The turning point comes when Vahid understands her love of food and delights in planning a day for her that is a food tour of his city. He is chivalrous and romantic. I felt the constant danger in their romance, such as when they are harassed by the police on multiple occasions, or when families picnicking in a park call the police, because a couple alone is a suspicious activity. Vahid's initial behavior becomes more clear as we learn more about his culture. Klinec speaks of many aspects of Iran that she loves ( stunning architecture, welcoming people, the food), but the fear is also always present.
From my western perspective, the idea of an official temporary marriage seems very backwards and outrageous, but I was mostly intrigued that this concept exists at all. There is a fear mentioned by authorities that Klinec has come to Iran to marry, and Vahid's parents, although they like Klinec enough as a visitor, are not happy with the relationship that has developed. However, once the temporary marriage has taken place, there is a resignation that their relationship, including sex, is acceptable. It wasn't easy for them to obtain this marriage, but I still wondered how it happened at all, or how common this even is in Iran? Vahid and Klinec end up marrying and living in London, but there was a chunk of time between their temporary and permanent marriages, how was Vahid impacted during this time? Love aside, if he had not continued his relationship with Klinec, would this have ruined his chances at a good marriage in Iran? Although Klinec felt some danger while in Iran, I think the bulk of the consequences fell on Vahid's shoulders.
DISLIKE- Perhaps only that I had those lingering questions about Vahid and the impact of the temporary marriage. I would have liked a statistical comparison to put the temporary marriage in context. Although the title of the book is The Temporary Bride, the portion dealing with the temporary marriage is relatively minor. Food is the real star of the memoir.
RECOMMEND- Yes, The Temporary Bride is a great pick for foodies and readers who love to be transported to different worlds. Klinec is a beautiful writer and has an unique story to share.