Cover image for Savage feast : three generations, two continents, and a dinner table (a memoir with recipes)
Savage feast : three generations, two continents, and a dinner table (a memoir with recipes)
1st ed.
Physical Description:
x, 348 pages ; 24 cm.
General Note:
"A memoir with recipes"--Dust jacket.
The author shares the story of his family, their immigration, and the challenges of navigating two cultures.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 FISHMAN 1 1

On Order



One of Booklist's Must Read Nonfiction picks of 2019

The acclaimed author of A Replacement Life shifts between heartbreak and humor in this gorgeously told, recipe-filled memoir. A family story, an immigrant story, a love story, and an epic meal, Savage Feast explores the challenges of navigating two cultures from an unusual angle.

A revealing personal story and family memoir told through meals and recipes, Savage Feast begins with Boris's childhood in Soviet Belarus, where good food was often worth more than money. He describes the unlikely dish that brought his parents together and how years of Holocaust hunger left his grandmother so obsessed with bread that she always kept five loaves on hand. She was the stove magician and Boris' grandfather the master black marketer who supplied her, evading at least one firing squad on the way. These spoils kept Boris' family--Jews who lived under threat of discrimination and violence--provided-for and protected.

Despite its abundance, food becomes even more important in America, which Boris' family reaches after an emigration through Vienna and Rome filled with marvel, despair, and bratwurst. How to remain connected to one's roots while shedding their trauma? The ambrosial cooking of Oksana, Boris's grandfather's Ukrainian home aide, begins to show him the way. His quest takes him to a farm in the Hudson River Valley, the kitchen of a Russian restaurant on the Lower East Side, a Native American reservation in South Dakota, and back to Oksana's kitchen in Brooklyn. His relationships with women--troubled, he realizes, for reasons that go back many generations--unfold concurrently, finally bringing him, after many misadventures, to an American soulmate.

Savage Feast is Boris' tribute to food, that secret passage to an intimate conversation about identity, belonging, family, displacement, and love.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

This delightful, recipe-filled memoir from novelist Fishman (A Replacement Life) follows his Jewish family-and their richly-described dinner tables-across three generations, from 1945 Belarus to 2017 Brooklyn. Beginning in postwar Minsk, where the Holocaust left "an extended family of fewer than a dozen," the author punctuates the story of his relatives' emigration experience with their meals, from the braised sardines in his grandmother's "Nazi cast-iron pot," to the "peeled hard-boiled egg with a snowcap of mayonnaise" he relished as a child on the train out of the Soviet Union in 1988. In New York, Fishman grew into a romantically troubled writer struggling in his 30s to cope with "trauma-derived mother-hunger" inherited from his forebears and to hold onto his "past without being consumed by its poison." Fishman found an unlikely guide in his grandfather's Ukrainian home aide, whose cooking lessons delivered him from a tenderly rendered episode of clinical depression. There's a large web of characters and anecdotes, but Fishman grounds the narrative with his witty prose and well-translated family recipes-like the Soviet Wings his family cooked in Italy while immigrating to America, and kasha varnishkes, perfect "for Passover if you're an atheist." Fishman's sprawling immigrant saga masterfully evokes a family that survives, united by food. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Feb.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Food from the old country nourishes the spirits of refugees.At the age of 9, journalist and novelist Fishman (Creative Writing/Princeton Univ.; Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo, 2016, etc.) immigrated to the United States from Soviet Belarus with his parents and grandparents via Vienna and Rome. In each city, they underwent an examination of documents, health, and suitability to enter the U.S. The process was protracted and tense, and some families were turned away. But after making an emotional case for their oppression, they were approved, and on Thanksgiving Day, 1988, they landed in New York to begin the challenging transformation of becoming Americans. Central to Fishman's insightful, absorbing memoir is hunger: "the trauma-derived mother-hunger that won't give you a moment to wonder if you're really hungry underneath all that worry." The trauma of cultural loss, shared by many immigrants, was assuaged by his grandfather's home health aide, whose recipes for potato latkes, stuffed cabbage, braised rabbit, liver pie, and scores more make the memoir a succulent treat. Besides hunger, the family harbored an overwhelming fear of risk and deep-seated pessimism. When Fishman's mother went to a therapist, distraught at her son's reckless decision to move to Mexico, the therapist, bemused, asked, "what if it goes well?" His mother was stunned: "Something as obvious as things turning out okay even if someone split from the pack had never occurred to her." Although their innate sense of doom made his family seem "medieval and maimed," he, too, was dogged by a pervasive feeling of sorrow and disorientation that led him to bruising romantic relationships and emerged as full-blown depression. "I used to think," he writes, "that if I could just persuade them that risk brought reward, that things turned out okay now and then, I could be myself without confusing or hurting them. But their losses and shocks reached so far," he concedes, "I couldn't save them." With great effort (and therapy and antidepressants), he managed to save himself.A graceful memoir recounting a family's stories with candor and sensitivity. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Preteen émigré from the collapsing Soviet Union to New York in 1988, Fishman was part of a mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe who navigated the vast gulf between Communist-led nations and the Western world of capitalism. These pioneers faced substantial culture shock as they learned that the American dream held as many challenges as promises. The Fishman family did not move directly from Minsk to Brooklyn but traced a path first to Vienna and then to Italy. Having survived the Holocaust and its privations left the elder family members obsessed with food. They maintained Old World culinary traditions, even if they didn't adhere to kosher diets. But hard work, cleverness, and good luck kept the family basically intact and ready to overcome the complexities of their new American lives. Fishman, author most recently of the novel Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo (2016), admires and loves his parents and grandparents without glossing over their faults, and in this memoir, he documents those comforting recipes that shaped daily lives, from blini to salmon soup.--Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

WE SHOULD ALL BE SO LUCKY as to COOk for Boris Fishman's grandfather, a macher with a liquor cabinet full of excellent cognac and a jovial disregard for the dietary restrictions recommended by the agency that assigned him Oksana, his home health aide. Oksana is the hub of "Savage Feast," Fishman's memoir of food, family and identity. "Her tables were the sublime distraction that allowed the old, well-grooved grievances to occasionally make room for something else." Having immigrated to America from Minsk in 1988 at the age of 9, Fishman feels the tension of being a liminal immigrant. He envies "people with generations behind them in America - all that compound achievement." But he also keeps his sense of otherness sharply tuned: He wants it both ways. Fishman would like to pass for native, to become wholly American, but he can't resist foreign habits, like bringing delicious tin-foil-wrapped treats to eat on a plane: "Pieces of lightly fried whiting. Chicken schnitzels in an egg batter. Tomatoes, which I ate like apples. Fried cauliflower. Pickled garlic. Marinated peppers, though these could be leaky. Sliced fox. Salami." Oh, Fishman is hungry. Don't doubt it for a second. At a Passover Seder, overwhelmed by cognac and Oksana's tsimmes, he recalls a piece of advice he once read: that to achieve "moderation in alcohol" one should drink only when hungry. "But I couldn't stop being hungry. If I could pause for 10 minutes, perhaps my brain would catch up to my stomach, but I couldn't manage to pause for that long." Fishman eats as his family eats: "You come," he tells himself, "from a people who eat." On the train from Minsk, when Fishman was a child, the family was roused in the predawn hours and asked to provide their documentation. "If you want a shortcut to the Eastern European experience," he observes, "you must have yourself woken from the sarcophagus of a sleeper's ceiling berth by border guards in the night." Afterward, shaken by the experience, "out came rolls of salt cured salami, a basket of hardboiled eggs, a block of hard cheese, towelwrapped cucumbers, tins of sprats, sardines, cod liver and salmon. And a loaf of dark sourdough Borodinsky rye, sweetened with molasses, made with coriander seeds, finished with caraway." Enthusiastic meals - not all of them in transit - are the language of this book, the waypoints and transitions, the narrative beats and instigative sparks that drive the storytelling. The meals are fantastic. Of course, they tend to sharpen that which Fishman claims to want to dull: One can bring only so much pickled garlic onto the airplane before people start to stare. "With the extra peripheral vision that is a kind of evolutionary adaptation for refugees, persecuted people and immigrants, I would sense, on the plane, the sideways glances of savage, disturbed curiosity." Rebuke - perceived or real - seems to surround Fishman and eventually overwhelms him. Tales of his family yield to accounts of his own inability to find personal and professional equilibrium, and we watch him dig his way out of a deep depression by (of course) learning to cook. He goes to work on a farm, organizes a meal for a camp full of children, and interns at a restaurant full of entertainingly sullen Russian line cooks. Many of the best parts of this book will be familiar to readers of Fishman's work; indeed, "Savage Feast" feels at times like a key to his novel "A Replacement Life," which involved the creation of fraudulent Holocaust restitution stories - in other words, telling stories about your family. But here there's a more straightforward desire for connection and a much less postmodern quest to find someone to eat with. "Two people eating in famished, silent synchrony - what more did you need?" 'Tomatoes, which I ate like apples. Fried cauliflower. Pickled garlic... . Sliced lox.' MAX WATMAN'S most recent book is "Harvest: Field Notes From a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food."

Library Journal Review

Fishman (A Replacement Life) has written a funny yet moving memoir of his life as an immigrant from Minsk, Belarus, much of which revolves around the connections between food and family. Fishman discusses his early years living in Soviet Minsk with his parents and Holocaust survivor grandparents, and how they survived before their life-changing move to the United States. Included are many recipes from Oksana, the home aide who cares for Fishman's grandfather. These dishes were an integral part of their lives in Brooklyn. Another significant aspect of the narrative deals with the relationships Fishman had with several women throughout his life; not only his mother and grandmothers but also several girlfriends who helped shape his views and what he wanted out of life. Fishman was especially close with his grandfather and relies on his wisdom and humor to help him during his personal issues. VERDICT This beautifully written memoir is a wonderful story about family, love, and connecting with your roots. Recommended to readers who enjoyed Michael W. Twitty's The Cooking Gene.-Holly Skir, Broward Cty. Lib., FL © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.