GUMBO LIFE

TALES FROM THE ROUX BAYOU

Affectionate portrait of that favorite Cajun comfort food and the tradition from which it came.

Down on the bayou, it’s all about the gumbo, the overstuffed soup that babies eat “as soon as they go off the breast or the bottle.” Now, bayou has a specific meaning, and former Wall Street Journal writer Wells (The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, 2008, etc.) opens with a glossary of key terms, including that one, which describes a riparian ecosystem that “provided habitable high ground in a place where high ground was rare” for the Cajun, or Acadian, French-descended refugees who arrived there after being expelled from British Canada nearly 250 years ago. Gumbo itself derives from an African word for okra, a key ingredient, along with sausage, shrimp, bell peppers, and always rice. Beyond that, there are spices of various sorts, making the gumbo peppery or mild, simple or savory. One is filé, a powder made of ground sassafras leaves, whose “application in gumbo was subject to a rather robust debate even in the deepest part of the Gumbo Belt,” namely whether it goes in while the gumbo is cooking or as it is cooling off. As the author notes, gumbo is not, strictly speaking, a Cajun invention, since it owes so much to West African antecedents, but nowhere has it become quite so elevated than Louisiana. From there, Cajun cooking has spread around the world. For instance, Paul Prudhomme’s concoction of spices for blackened redfish has found a welcome home in Greece. Gumbo allows for experimentation, which “requires confidence and willing guinea pigs,” though traditionalists will argue about that, too. In one cook-off, Wells, who grew up in the bayou, encountered gumbos made with tried-and-true hog lard, duck, and shrimp, with the most exotic thing being rabbit (“My mother would put rabbit in her sauce piquant but would never think of putting it in her gumbo”). The author closes his gently spun tale with a few recipes that foodies will want to test immediately.

A tasty treat.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-25483-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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