By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s Karma Cola and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s Heat, Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters. Following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands, Curry cracks open anew the staid narrative of an authentically Indian diasporic experience.
A deep and thoughtful look at what Ruthnum calls “currybooks”, or books of the South Asian diaspora. Curry has adapted to the many parts of the world it has been brought to, with spices and cream added and subtracted to cater to the tastes of a particular people. Likewise, currybooks charge form based on different factors but have nostalgia, authenticity, and the idea of getting back to one’s roots as overarching themes.
Is there a problem with these expectations in the genre? Only that they constrain and limit the potential methods of expression for brown writers.
Ruthnum examines novels, cookbooks, movies, and touches on his own experience as the son of Mauritian immigrants. The writing is well-done and interesting, falling more on the educational side of things than entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that, but go in knowing that Curry will require (and reward) your mental effort. My e-copy is full of highlights that I suspect I’ll be returning to as I read more books set in and by authors from this part of the world.
Great for those interested in representation, the immigrant experience, race, and how they’re expressed in literature.
Thanks to Coach House Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.