A culinary-minded journalist reckons with the loss of her sense of smell.
After graduating from college, 22-year-old Birnbaum decided to change course and pursue her passion for cooking as a vocation. Little did she know that her life’s direction was to change yet again that summer. Just weeks before she was to start at the Culinary Institute of America, the author was hit by a car, an accident that broke her pelvis in two spots, snapped the tendons in her knee, fractured her skull and, most devastatingly for the author, obliterated her sense of smell. After a month, when she was utterly unmoved in the face of a freshly baked apple crisp, Birnbaum realized the gravity of her situation. In her debut, the author attempts to come to terms with life after her trauma. She movingly depicts the nearly ineffable plight of the anosmic, both from her perspective—“without smell, the world around me seemed suddenly strange and stagnant. […] How do you describe the scent of nothing? I wondered. It was strong; it was blank. It was completely overwhelming”—and that of others she encountered in researching the condition’s various forms. Ever hopeful that her sense would return and eager to understand the roots of her malady—the impact’s force had severed the olfactory neurons connecting nose to brain—Birnbaum consulted with Oliver Sacks, numerous olfactory specialists and even a flavorist and perfumers. Her story includes probing introspection, especially as smell relates to emotion, alongside passages of sweeping journalistic discovery of all things olfactory.
A brave, unflagging memoir.