Book Review: ‘Notes on a Banana’
‘Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression’
Dey Street, 2017
Much has been contributed to the canon of first-person literature on anxiety and mental health disorders.
But David Leite, a James Beard Award-winning food writer and cookbook author, offers a witty account to the trove with his new memoir, “Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression.”
Leite takes the reader on a coming-of-age journey — from his childhood in the blue-collar city of Fall River, Massachusetts, to a working professional in New York City.
First, Leite grew up in a devoutly Catholic and food-crazed Azorean family. “Food. It was one of the ways we bonded,” he writes.
In this traditional Portuguese family, living in what he calls the “armpit of Massachusetts,” Leite learned to be a big dreamer. In fact, dreaming is what sustained him throughout a childhood that was speckled with transgressions like a neighbor’s sexual advances. The whole time, Leite is struggling to understand the range of his emotions that seems to run higher and lower than what he believes to be the normal spectrum.
As a nod to the book’s title, his mother often referred to her son affectionately as “banana.” She also writes brief messages on bananas for her son. One of these messages is “Jesus loves you!”
Admittedly, his mother “is a blood hound for Jesus,” he writes. “She can sniff out sin before it happens the way some people smell burnt toast before a seizure.”
Complicating his early teen years, Leite starts becoming aware of the fact that he’s gay. This isn’t something he shares with his parents until he’s an adult and in a relationship with his long-term partner, Alan, many years later.
Leite’s dreaming and ambition propelled him to a considerable amount of success as a writer for the likes of Bon Appetite and other glossy magazines. He eventually started his own website, Leite’s Culinaria, for which he won the coveted James Beard Award — twice.
Logophiles will appreciate the author’s expansive vocabulary and readers will enjoy Leite’s ability to bring levity to a host of serious — and sometimes sad — subjects.
The book gives a universal account of complications that many lives encounter, but “Notes on a Banana” brings levity and humor to the hardships the author recounts.
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