Treyf My life as an unorthodox outlaw

Elissa Altman

Book - 2016

Treyf--According to Leviticus, unkosher and prohibited, like lobster, shrimp, pork, fish without scales, the mixing of meat and dairy. Also, imperfect, intolerable, offensive, undesirable, unclean, improper, broken, forbidden, illicit. A person can eat treyf; a person can be treyf. In this kaleidoscopic, universal memoir of time and place, Elissa Altman explores the tradition, religion, family expectation, and the forbidden that were the fixed points in her 1970s Queens, New York, childhood. Eve...ry part of Altman's youth was laced with contradiction and hope, betrayal and the yearning for acceptance--synagogue on Saturday and Chinese pork ribs on Sunday; Bat Mitzvahs followed by shrimp-in-lobster-sauce luncheons; her old-country grandparents, whose kindness and love were tied to unspoken rage, and her bell-bottomed neighbors, whose adoring affection hid dark secrets. While the suburban promise of The Brady Bunch blared on television, Altman searched for peace and meaning in a world teeming with faith, violence, sex, and paradox. Spanning from 1940s wartime Brooklyn to 1960s and '70s Queens to present-day rural New England, Treyf captures the collision of youthful cravings and grown-up identities; it is a vivid tale of what it means to come to yourself both in spite of and in honor to your past.

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BIOGRAPHY/Altman, Elissa
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Location Call Number   Status
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Subjects
Genres
Autobiographies
Published
New York : New American Library [2016]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
287 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780425277812
042527781X
Main Author
Elissa Altman (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

The word treyf in Hebrew means unclean and prohibited. Altman, a noted food writer who felt much of her life was treyf, explores what it meant to grow up in a Jewish household where the unhappiness was served up as thick as the dusky borscht her grandmother insisted she eat. Her father, a foodie, was as enamored of pork as he was depressed by a stultifying family and an unhappy marriage. Her mother, a model, disdained her chubby daughter. In this companion to Poor Man's Feast (2013), which detailed how New Yorker Altman found love with a small-town Catholic woman, the author turns a literary microscope on her growing-up years and the people who influenced her for good and bad. Like eating popcorn (gourmet popcorn), this is hard to put down, even when readers might occasionally wonder how it is that everyone in Altman's past is such a Character. Still, Altman's conflicted feelings about her life, her parents, and, yes, food infuse this delicious memoir. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Altman (Poor Man's Feast) treats readers to her somewhat unconventional middle-class childhood in 1960s Queens, NY. This readable memoir of a Jewish youth filled with longing for home and family finds contradiction and dashed expectations, as most childhoods do, but is centered eventually without fanfare or angst in the medium of cooking. The treyf (ritually unclean) designation ultimately comes from the author's dawning realization of her homosexuality. Yet, the issues of family and belonging are psychologically threatened by her (seeming) nonnormative orientation. This personal journey is somewhat nostalgic but offered without self-pity or self-loathing, valuing birth families as well as formed ones, honoring the beliefs as well as the memories associated with each. She concludes, "Belonging everywhere, I now belong nowhere…. To know who I am; to remember where I came from." VERDICT Highly recommended for its telling of the complexities of family life and the warm portrayal of coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s.—SC. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Washington Post columnist Altman (Poor Man's Feast) writes about Jewish food and family in Queens, N.Y., and how the former, with its goulashes and kreplach, sustains and anchors her while the latter leaves her in a state of panic and bewilderment. Her decades-long struggle to regain the happiness and comfort she felt in her beloved maternal grandmother's home is depicted lovingly, with many moments of heartbreak and disappointment but also joy and contentment. Her childhood and adolescence are rife with disapproval and contradictions, such as bacon breakfasts before Sunday visits to her Orthodox paternal grandparents. Her grandmother tries to feed her brains; her grandfather is a rage-filled cantor whose family perished in the Holocaust. There's also tremendous conflict between Altman's father, an adman who adores cooking and food, and her mother, an aspiring singer and actor who starves herself and is relegated to performing for neighbors. The preoccupation with treyf (something that's prohibited and unkosher) is a constant, such as how her grandmother describes the women Altman's father dated before marrying, and the Spam he cooks that her mother tosses, emphatically declaring, "We're Jews." Pork, shellfish, and everything forbidden are endlessly present in their conspicuous absence. There's also unease for Altman as she keeps the secret that she's attracted to women. When she's in her 30s, she sheds an image that never belonged to her and marries a Catholic woman. Altman's path to living authentically is hard won, but she demonstrates there's reward to be found in the fight. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The critically acclaimed, James Beard Award-winning author of Poor ManÆs Feast describes her experiences growing up in a Jewish family in 1940s wartime Brooklyn and the traditions, expectations and rule-breaking that have shaped her life.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"From the James Beard Award-winning author of Poor Man's Feast comes a powerful, heartfelt, and insightful story of one Jewish American's quest for identity in an unkosher world.."--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Explores the author's experiences growing up in a Jewish family, discussing the traditions, expectations, and rule-breaking that have shaped her life.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

From the Washington Post columnist and James Beard Award-winning author of Poor Man’s Feast comes a story of seeking truth, acceptance, and self in a world of contradiction...  Treyf: According to Leviticus, unkosher and prohibited, like lobster, shrimp, pork, fish without scales, the mixing of meat and dairy. Also, imperfect, intolerable, offensive, undesirable, unclean, improper, broken, forbidden, illicit.  Fans of Augusten Burroughs and Jo Ann Beard will enjoy this kaleidoscopic, universal memoir in which Elissa Altman explores the tradition, religion, family expectations, and the forbidden that were the fixed points in her Queens, New York, childhood. Every part of Altman’s youth was laced with contradiction and hope, betrayal and the yearning for acceptance: synagogue on Saturday and Chinese pork ribs on Sunday; bat mitzvahs followed by shrimp-in-lobster-sauce luncheons; her old-country grandparents, whose kindness and love were tied to unspoken rage, and her bell-bottomed neighbors, whose adoring affection hid dark secrets.   While the suburban promise of The Brady Bunch blared on television, Altman searched for peace and meaning in a world teeming with faith, violence, sex, and paradox. Spanning from 1940s wartime Brooklyn to 1970s Queens to present-day rural New England, Treyf captures the collision of youthful cravings and grown-up identities. It is a vivid tale of what it means to come to yourself both in spite and in honor to your past.