A Taste for Paprika: A Memoir
Naomi Brun is a freelance writer and a book reviewer for The Hamilton
In her memoir, A Taste for Paprika, Laura Elise Taylor invites the
reader into her kitchen. She and her grandmother are making a strudel.
“A Zucker brauch’ma,” Oma says, and Laura brings over the tin of
sugar. “Come, smell,” she invites, opening up the bag of fresh poppy
seeds. “The fields of ‘da Hoam.’”
As Laura and her grandmother cook the dishes of “da Hoam,” the old
country, Oma tells the stories of her youth. She lived in Burgenland, an
area that was sometimes Hungarian, sometimes Austrian. Essentially, it
was rural, and its people cared deeply about the land. Farming was
important to them, but politics were not—until many Burgenlander wound
up in cattle cars on the way to concentration camps during World War II.
Oma eventually emigrated, bringing her husband and children with her.
Laura’s mother, Erika, found the transition difficult. She had been a
prized student back home, but in Canada was put in the slow class due to
her lack of English. Her parents did not value education for a girl, but
Laura persevered, working during the day and attending high school at
night. Despite tremendous odds, she graduated and made a nice life for
herself. Oma and Erika, though, inhabited different worlds, and were
never able to see eye to eye.
The author has found herself caught in the middle of this family
dynamic, a fact reflected in her writing. The European portion of the
story is beautifully written, full of poetry and emotional depth,
perhaps facilitated by the author’s distance from the actual events.
The Canadian portion, though, is more flat than it needs to be. There is
tremendous potential in that house of women for wonderful storytelling,
for Laura and Oma are often chatting together in the kitchen about “da
Hoam” while Erika, so much the outsider, is out making a living. Laura
does tell the story, but without the poignancy it deserves.
A Taste of Paprika is a largely promising entry into the writing world
by a new literary voice. The parts that deal with “da Hoam” are
enchanting, and Taylor writes about food with a flair that rivals
Nigella Lawson. When dealing with the author’s own emotional baggage,
however, the writing loses some of its zest.