If you are a fan of memoirs, and have a fondness for food and travel to exotic places, you will be delighted by The Temporary Bride. Already captivated by the book’s subtitle, A Memoir Of Love And Food In Iran, I was also attracted to this book because of the author’s Canadian roots. Jennifer Klinec was raised in south-western Ontario by immigrant parents with eastern European backgrounds (Hungarian-Croatian). Although her mother did not let her participate in the cooking of her homemade meals, Jennifer had an early appreciation of the scents and tastes of the “paprika-dense” stews and sour-cherry strudels, and late night family dinners.
Her parents, intent on achieving monetary success in their new country, soon had little time for hands-on parenting. Jennifer and her sister became uniquely independent, as her mother allowed her to forge school notes, and sign up for her own summer activities. Gone were the “luscious, peasant evening meals,” and close family bonds that were forged listening to gypsy music while sitting on folding chairs in the garden. Assuming more and more responsibility for herself, it was not surprising that by age 16, Jennifer desperately wanted to escape life outside Ontario. Financed by her parents, Jennifer enrolled herself in a Swiss boarding school, and during school breaks she travelled alone to distant places. She became a seasoned traveler at a young age, adapting to uncomfortable situations with ease, and travelling to countries that most people fear.
After several years at a job at a large investment bank in London which brought her financial independence, she quit and started a new business teaching people how to cook. This required long hours in her home kitchen, and encouraged trips abroad to learn new recipes. In the quest for new recipes, Jennifer found herself in Yazd, Iran. It was there she met Vahid, who started a conversation with her to practise his English. This conversation led her to his home where his mother let her observe and eventually help her cook. Jennifer describes all encounters with food with a loving reverence…regardless of whether she is describing pistachio and coconut baklava sprinkled with rosewater or a fluorescent yellow turmeric soup accompanied by a plate of tongues and brains sprinkled with cinnamon and lemon juice.
Vegetarians and animal rights activists will be appalled by the pages describing the slaughter of camels…I must confess, I could only skim these passages and honestly wished the author had not shared the experience.
Jennifer’s budding relationship with Vahid is also disturbing for the reader, as life in Iran post-1979 is very rigid. Vahid is stopped by the police for walking with Jennifer, the “foreign girl” and is only saved from a trip to the police station by claiming she is a London cousin. Jennifer must carefully cover her hair with a scarf and wear a long coat for modesty. The former politeness that ruled daily interactions in Iran is fading, and people are often brusque and abrupt.
The growing physical relationship between the often gruff and distant Vahid and Jennifer made me a bit uncomfortable, like I was intruding on a personal story that I probably should not know. Early in the relationship, it appeared Vihad felt Jennifer was inferior in many respects. As their relationship strengthens, the cultural threats and complications escalate. The only way for them to appear together is to enter a contract that allows Jennifer to become a temporary bride.
Ultimately this memoir offers a brave portrait of an independent woman, who has experienced a life that few of us can even imagine in their wildest dreams. Her love and appreciation for food and foreign cultures is inspiring, and will enchant armchair travellers and foodies.
If you like this book, I also recommend that you check out another Canadian travelogue/memoir by Laurie Gough:
Kite Strings Of The Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey (also known as Island Of The Human Heart)
This feisty and energetic tale records the author’s travels in Asia and the South Pacific and describes sultry nights in Fiji, adventure on the back of a motorcycle, and life under the Southern Cross.