There is an overwhelming preoccupation with food in this book. Part of this is emblematic of the central characters’ struggle and drive to survive: as refugees, the food they bring and gather to see them through their flight is crucial, as is the prospect of what they will grow and eat when they finally arrive. José’s repeated assertions that “they were Ilokanos—they would not starve anywhere” and “Ilokanos can eat what other people cannot,” are both a descriptive and symbolic. The industrious and persevering Ilocano characters of the book are set in contrast with the overbearing but sloppy Spanish rulers who make their lives so miserable and who, ironically, dismiss all “indios” (native Filipinos) as lazy and stupid. “As for patience and industry,” José writes, “they were Ilokanos born to these virtues—it was in their blood, in the very air they breathed.” Istak and his family are resourceful and resilient, overcoming hardship and scarcity to carve a new life for themselves.
I have discovered a new (to me) internet niche that I absolutely love: blogs about the intersection of food and literature. Here are some of my favorites:
Imik Simik: Cooking With Gaul: Mostly a recipe blog, but often with a decidedly literary bent (Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk--a book which is on my list and which I should get to around 2033–sparks a search for the perfect Circassian chicken recipe), this beautiful collection is the work of Anny Gaul, a PhD student investigating “the emergence of the modern domestic kitchen in early 20th century Egypt and Morocco.”
The Little Library Cafe: A gorgeously-photographed blog with recipes inspired by specific meals described in books (Sole with White Sauce from A Room of One’s Own, for instance, or Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate cake from Matilda). I haven’t tried any of these recipes so I can’t vouch for their deliciousness, but they’re beautiful to look at and the discussion of books is thoughtful and extremely readable.
Paper and Salt: A blog devoted to “recreat[ing] and reinterpret[ing] the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” Meticulously researched and full of fascinating literary gems–such as Ibsen’s stringent writing routine, or the fact that Keats was possibly the first person in the world to mention roast beef sandwiches in writing.
Paper/Plates: Recipes by a collection of contributors, loosely inspired by literary works (The Goldfinch, for instance, largely revolves around the narrator’s relationship with his mother; on this blog it is represented by an Egyptian bird’s tongue soup that reminds the blogger of her own mother). [update, 5/28/16: This website is being overhauled and archived posts are no longer available; poor timing on my part! It should be back up and running soon and I’ll take this note down then]