BE MY GUEST by Priya Basil


Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity
Email this review


The roles food and hospitality play in a woman’s personal life and in the broader world.

“Who are we becoming? Who do we want to be?” asks Basil, the Berlin-based co-founder of Authors for Peace. “Can the answer lie in a sausage? Perhaps only insofar as one never exactly knows—or wants to!—all the contents within the casing. Identity, too, is a mince of sorts.” In these short and sometimes meandering musings, in which the author enlists the wisdom of Plato, Kant, Hannah Arendt, Peter Singer, and other thinkers, Basil explores what it means to be a woman, an immigrant, a host, and a guest through the backdrop of food, specifically the Indian food that reflects her Sikh background. Although born in London to Indian parents, Basil has also lived in Kenya, Britain, and Germany, giving her exposure to unique experiences that have shaped her ways of thinking about what it means to belong. Physical and emotional sustenance via food are the main themes that move through Basil’s ruminations about integration, hospitality, the necessity of the European Union, altruism, and her insecurities about her relationships with others and with food itself. She shares her obsession with her mother’s kadhi, a curry made with graham flour and yogurt, describes a langar (a free meal at a Sikh temple, regardless of the guest’s religion or ethnicity), and chronicles her difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight. Pungent details help bring readers into the moment—e.g., Basil’s observations of the variety of bare feet she encountered at the langar. The tone is conversational, but the author also touches on deep subjects such as racism, food waste, and how food can be healing, seductive, or even used as a weapon. Although a quick read, the book offers plenty of room for contemplation.

Careful considerations of the wide world of food and “the life-play of hospitality.”

Pub Date: April 21st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-525-65785-9
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2020