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From the doorstep to invisibility

Hospitality and Hostility: Confronting the Invisible in the “Transparency” of Food Narratives

Hospitalité et hostilité : faire face à l’invisible dans la « transparence » des récits culinaires
Virginia Allen-Terry Sherman


Associer l’hospitalité à la nourriture semble tautologique, mais l’association de la nourriture à l’hostilité est moins évidente. Les mémoires culinaires sont à la fois des témoignages et des offres d’hospitalité. Les récits révèlent des facettes de transparence et de sincérité autour de l’hospitalité et de l’hostilité. Les œuvres que je me propose d’examiner, le mémoire de Diana Abu-Jaber, The Language of Baklava, son roman semi-autobiographique, Crescent, et le roman de Monique Truong, The Book of Salt, sont des récits d’immigrants qui opposent l’hospitalité occidentale et orientale (du Moyen-Orient) aux manifestations d’hospitalité et d’hostilité des immigrants. Nous nous pencherons également sur le roman de Nicole Krauss, The History of Love, une histoire d’invisibilité et de perte, qui montre comment survivre dans le désert de la vie avec des miettes d’espoir, de vérité et de mensonge. Comme dans de nombreux récits d’immigrants, les gens sont dépouillés de leur patrie, de leurs biens, de leur langue et de leur amour, ils sont culturellement dépouillés et revêtis d’identités étrangères, réfugiés à la fois de l’hospitalité et de l’hostilité.
La transparence de l’hospitalité est nécessaire pour supprimer les frontières, pour rendre les personnes visibles. Sans cette transparence inconditionnelle naît le soupçon du poison, l’hostilité ultime de la trahison. Cependant, ces valeurs honnêtes et transparentes qui engendrent des représentations littéraires de l’hospitalité, provoquent aussi des scènes dans lesquelles cette hospitalité se dérobe à cause de gestes d’hospitalité culturellement intraduisibles, perçus comme des hostilités, dans lesquelles la présence de l’autre est menacée et menaçante. Peut-on vraiment reconnaître et accueillir l’autre quand on est « chez soi » ou faut-il être nomade ou itinérant pour comprendre le besoin auquel l’hospitalité répond ?
L’hospitalité peut également être une réaction aux hostilités : de nombreux mémorialistes cuisinent pour apaiser des souvenirs traumatisants, et pour offrir la possibilité de nouveaux horizons. La cuisine est en effet une langue, transparente en soi.

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  • 1 “La poétique de l’altérité inaugure une double perspective entre l’intra- et l’extra-culturel dans (...)
  • 2 Tahar Ben Jelloun suggests that the guest leaves the house empty when they go (Still, 2012: 9) diff (...)

1To associate hospitality with food seems tautological; however, the association of food with hostility is less self-evident. Panu Minkkinen cites Latin sources to explain that “the etymologies of the words ʻhostility’ and ʻhospitality’ share a common root which has to do with food. The root of the word hostis is the Sanskrit ghas meaning ʻto eat’, ʻto consume’, or even ʻto destroy’. And even though it is unclear as to who eats and what, a hostis is a stranger and a foreigner.” (2007: 53) Inherent in the notion of hospitality is indeed that of the idea of the stranger, the one towards whom, in many cultures, one feel an obligation to welcome. Furthermore, Anne Gotman highlights the French origin of both words, hôte, meaning both guest and host. From these definitions we evolve the idea that the diasporic other incites less empathy, is treated with greater disregard, and is overall considered less worthy of hospitality (Mermillod, 2020). Rita Olivieri-Godet explains that “[t]he poetics of otherness opens up a double perspective between the intra- and extra-cultural in its questioning of the Other, this ʻstrange stranger’, unassimilable and invisible” (2010: 113)1. In this discussion, we will consider the ways in which the dilemma of the excluded and invisible other is confronted in and through the intentions and exploration of transparency in food narratives. The nuances of this notion in contemporary American literature focus on oppositions between the ideas of openness and exclusion, of seeing and not-seeing. Hospitality must be mutually nourishing in the literal and figurative senses of the word2, a delicate balance between hospitality and hostility, paradoxically a finer dichotomy than that of the tolerance and welcome that Kant evokes (Minkkinen, 2007: 5354).

  • 3 An example of this collectively experienced sense of belonging is found in the same reassuring shop (...)

2While the plural of hostility is more frequently employed than that of hospitality, we discern several forms of hospitality in food narratives—memoirs and fiction—that resonate with the metaphor of transparency as a narratorial approach and a leitmotif that can be both positive or negative. These forms include the intrinsic hospitality of communities that find themselves in shared cultural contexts in which they experience a momentary sense of belonging.3 Individual hospitality includes offers of food that nourishes, but also risks consuming the other even while it is being consumed, for one also assimilates elements of cultural connection. Culinary memoirs may also, therefore, be the scenes of hostilities that trigger the tensions that surround one’s sense of personal integrity, which at such moments may be temporarily breached. Memoir writers also explore problems of assimilation in narratives which describe how resistance can be dissipated in authentic, culturally-rooted cooking. An example that gives weight to this idea is found in Indian immigrant writer Shoba Narayan’s memoir Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes in which the ambiguous world food that Narayan serves to her guests at a charity lunch organised to pay for her future in America fails to please her guests, and harmony is only restored when she returns to the kitchen to produce a comforting Indian staple, “upma […] a one-dish dinner as simple and comforting as a casserole” (2003: 145), that is a unanimous and unifying success.

3Angelo Pellegrini, in his memoir The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, an example of authenticity and the innate culturally-rooted hospitality of his simple back-to-the-earth Italian cuisine, expressed his native peasant belief: “I have always lived in the presumptuous though comforting notion that any Italian, anywhere, has been waiting to welcome me with open arms.” (2005: 172) He identifies the hospitality inherent in the nomadic food of the diaspora, that Sasha Martin names in her memoir Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, (2015: 323) that is inspired by the dynamics of immigrant cultural exchange at the core of culinary memoirs.

  • 4 “La frontière est une limite hospitalière garante de la diversité du monde […] l’amie du cosmopolit (...)
  • 5 We recall Jacques Derrida’s law of unconditional hospitality: “[…] the necessary and impossible wel (...)
  • 6 “L’Hospitalité se trouve au croisement de plusieurs questionnements postmodernes sur l’identité, l’ (...)
  • 7 The principal works discussed in this article are referred to in citations by their titles: The Lan (...)

4Contemporary food narratives thus inevitably identify borders that separate the hospitable and the hostile, notably within the host’s attitude, and metaphorically at the frontiers of the home and the kitchen: Régis Debray says: “The border is a hospitable boundary that guarantees the diversity of the world […] the friend of cosmopolitanism and of hospitality.” (2012: n. pag.)4 One observes that a transnational approach is embraced in narratives in which food writers such as Shoba Narayan and Diana Abu-Jaber, cross borders to explore other culinary cultures as well as their own, with an awareness of the ethical need for hospitality5. Theirs is a response to the immigrant hope for, or even expectation of, hospitality in host lands, which Kant deemed a universal right, for, as he expressed it, we all occupy the same space (Minkkinen, 2007: 54). Yet in a post-colonial world those frontiers also signify a loss of identity. In preserving and sharing culinary traditions, paradoxically one potentially excludes the stranger-guest (Still, 2012: 2) by the simple manifestation of one’s difference in the presentation of culturally- or ethnically-specific dishes. Lise Gauvin’s comment is pertinent to this reflection: “Hospitality is situated at the crossroads of several postmodern questions about identity, belonging, cultural interaction and the practice of writing. It gives rise to a discourse from elsewhere on the foreigner, memory and its fictions, the poetics of uprootedness, passages, migration and migrant writing.” (2004: 9)6 Yet, the transparency or authenticity of hospitality in immigrant literature, related through intimately and sensually described dishes, can cross borders, inviting the other to the table and ostensibly dispelling the fabled suspicion of poison, the ultimate hostility of betrayal, although Diana Abu-Jaber’s family maid in Jordan describes their “woefully compromised” (Bardenstein, 2002: 54), though well-intentioned American food as “full of jinns and bad omens” (The Language of Baklava, 2005: 367).

  • 8 A further notable and complimentary example is Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love (2006), a story o (...)

5Diana Abu-Jaber’s memoir, The Language of Baklava (2005) can be associated with contemporary food-focused novels in which the notion of immigrant invisibility is explored through questions of latent hostility and inaccessible hospitability, notably in Abu-Jaber’s own semi-autobiographical novel Crescent (2003), preceding her memoir by two years, the fictional prelude to the telling of her own story. Monique Truong’s novel The Book of Salt (2003), while less autobiographical, also remains rooted in reality for her principal character Bính is inspired by Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Toklas’ Vietnamese cooks at their home in rue de Fleurus, Paris. Bính describes the meals he cooks for his “mesdames” with the exquisite poignancy of one who, although allowed to share the same food, will never share the same table: “Every day, my mesdames and I dine, if not together, then back-to-back. Of course, there is always a wall between us […] My mesdames do not even ask that I wait until they have finished, that I scrape together my meals from what is left of theirs.” (BS, 209-210) Sexual orientation (all three of Truong’s protagonists are homosexual), gender, as well as social and racial differences are at play in the exclusion of the colonially-defined male servant from the expatriate women’s table, just as he is excluded from the table of life, condemned to a marginal existence, in which he has never the right word for the literal and metaphorical ingredients he needs to cook. Immigrants are culturally stripped of homeland, possessions and language, and reclothed in hybrid identities, refugees behind veils of hospitality and hostility invisible to themselves and to others8. These stories of invisibility and loss, of survival in a hostile host land on crumbs of hope, highlight similarities in literary genres.

  • 9 “Dans la vie politique ou dans les relations humaines, la transparence est perçue comme un gage de (...)

6Culinary memoirs are testimonies to, as well as offers of, hospitality. They reveal facets of transparency that are associated with the confessional nature of personal stories, comprising anecdotes with family recipes that are redolent with traditional ingredients that embody the promise of the story’s sincerity9. They rely on the pragmatism and indispensable exactitude and integrity of recipes which invite the reader into the kitchen, as well as on personal revelations about self-searching that resonate with immigrant- and sisterhood-sharing. Abu-Jaber talks in a 2015 interview at the University of Oregon of transparency, honesty and concealment in fiction and memoir writing:

Fiction, you get to stand behind the rubric of character and the imaginary world. With memoir you have to go inward and you have to strip away all that we use to defend ourselves that we hide behind and all the posturing […] to lay it all out on the table. It took me literally years to write this book [The Language of Baklava]. I kept writing slightly veiled versions of it […] and it was my agent who kept sending it back to me saying tell me the truth, tell me the truth, tell me the truth”. (UO Today, n. pag. My transcription)

7The insistence is on the transparency that is necessary to be able to both welcome and to engage her reader.

8While culinary memoirs are confessional in nature, fictions focus on questions of the inconspicuousness of immigrants caught in interstitial spaces, invisible to their hosts and culturally blurred to themselves, searching for identity through gestures of hospitality offered and received. Bính, though the provider of his employers’ hospitality, describes himself as a “minor domestic, a bit character in [their] daily dramas” (Book of Salt, 154). Toklas’ moment of anger towards Bính confirms his sense of insignificance, and communicates to him the antithesis of hospitality, a disregard that exceeds contempt, that leaves his very immigrant existence in question:

The sight of warmth fading from Miss Toklas’s eye is a glimpse of my own death. Suddenly I am no longer there. […] while I have been permitted to stay within the doors of 27 rue de Fleurus, I have been excommunicated yet again from that perfect circle that is the center of every home. (BS, 103)

9He is excluded from the “ritual in intimacy”, the meal he is asked to prepare: “A platter of fried eggs and a loaf of bread placed in the center of a family’s table.” (BS, 102)

  • 10 “L’hospitalité confère une autre dimension, tout aussi importante, a ce vécu de la famille et de la (...)
  • 11 “On est chez soi quand on est hospité et reconnu […]” (Cassin, 2013: 14). My translation.

10Indeed, homemaking and its values are associated with welcome and belonging at the core of culinary narratives. Hospitality is an important dimension in home-building and anchoring oneself in a place, both for host and immigrant. Perla Serfaty-Garzon writes that hospitality adds another, equally important, dimension to the experience of family and the materiality of cooking as central to home building (2006: 27)10. As Barbara Cassin explains, hospitality as part of the construction of home is valid for both host and guest: “You have reached home when you are welcomed with recognition […]” (Cassin, 2013: 14)11 Recognition is synonymous with the hospitality which defines home. However, when the notion of home is ambivalent, hospitality often eschews due to culturally untranslatable gestures misconstrued as hostilities: the other’s presence is threatening and threatened. When Abu-Jaber’s family sets up a barbecue in front of their house with the intention of sharing food with their new neighbours, the gesture is met with hostility and incomprehension on both sides: “We are lost in the food, in the smell of grilling, and in the spring […]” exclaims Abu-Jaber (Language of Baklava, 80). Their excessively visible otherness is uninvited, unwelcome and misunderstood. They are taken for gypsies, threatened with expulsion, with being made invisible. Her school friend describes her family’s breach of social conduct as “‘an ‘unholy disgrace’ […] you better know that in this country nobody eats in the front yard. Really. Nobody.’ […] ‘If your family doesn’t know how to behave, my parents will have to find out about getting you out of this neighborhood’” (LB, 82), while Bud, her father, naïvely wonders if the neighbours were themselves gypsies.

11Their social error is born of their Jordanian hospitality, a central theme in Abu-Jaber’s memoir, in which Bud is an example of the guest as host, and the host as guest, a troubling and troublesome immigrant, his ambiguous posture revealing that hospitality exists in symbiosis with hostilitythe welcome and unwelcome other, presence and non-presence with connotations of negative transparency or invisibility. Abu-Jaber explains that “Hospitality to the Jordanians is more than a virtue; it’s a sacrament and exaltation” (Language of Baklava, 246). In her memoir, Abu-Jaber evokes a public reading of her first novel which becomes the scene of an interplay of the facets of immigrant invisibility. During the reading, she begins to understand a change in her self-perception: “I began to own a little more of my own story”. This sense of emerging autonomy leads her father to an unconscious awareness of the threatening anonymity of his immigrant persona; his reaction is to express concern for her visibility, displaying an overly extravagant gesture of hospitality:

When the question-and-answer session begins, Bud waves his arms from side to side. After I call on him—“Yes, Dad?”—he stands and turns to the audience. “I just want you all to know that’s my daughter.” He points at me, in case they might’ve missed me standing there at the podium […] Then he invites the audience over to his house for dinner. (LB, 232)

12She follows this scene with the recipe that she calls: “‘Invite the audience’ Tomato Chicken Mensaf: A crowd-pleasing variation on classic lamb (or goat) mensaf”, the title itself is a commitment to offering hospitality especially to strangers. Similarly, ignorant of etiquette in forms of American hospitality, Bud’s over-enthusiastic dinner invitations to Abu-Jaber’s zealous nun-teacher enamoured with Bud’s cooking and his seeming Holy Land lineage, must be reined in by her pragmatic American mother (LB, 26–29).

13Bud ultimately finds balance in his gestures of hospitality in an American-style restaurant with a Middle-Eastern conversational intimacy: “In the end, the type of food doesn’t matter so much to Bud; it’s cooking it and feeding people and watching them eat, keeping them alive in the desert of the world—that is all he really cares about.” (LB, 325) His frenetic search stops when he opens his restaurant serving—with characteristic Jordanian hospitality—the archetypal American hamburger and fries that nourished him on his arrival in America as a new immigrant. Reading Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook memoir (1953) that recounts Stein and Toklas’ inter-war hospitality, Abu-Jaber is reminded that exalted mutually-nourishing hospitality is part of her very identity (LB, 203), which Alice McLean also discerns in Toklas’ work (2012: 102). Tellingly, the recipes in the appendixes of Abu-Jaber’s second memoir, Life Without a Recipe (2016), included seemingly as an afterthought, are the discreet sign of a compulsion to feed the reader, manifested also in the feeding of her nanny’s impoverished family, despite her own emotional precarity as she hunts for a new home, as an anchor for herself and her family.

  • 12 “La langue est hospitalière […] l’invention poétique de l’hospitalité” (Gauvin et al., 2004: 13). M (...)
  • 13 A poignant example of such a memoir is the Holocaust-framed culinary memoir Miriam’s Kitchen. A Mem (...)

14Hospitality fails when honesty and transparency are compromised. While in Jordan, Abu-Jaber’s father’s estranged uncle invites her for a mean and meagre lunch, eaten amidst the terrible, haunting wails of a disturbed child that emerge from the recesses of the house. Abu-Jaber’s response to the traumatic meal is a recipe entitled “Spinach Stuffed Fetayer for those in Search of Home: A nice snack to take on your journey” (LB, 261), reflecting the diasporic search for home and its companion hospitality. Her elaborately descriptive titles confirm Gauvin’s affirmation that “Language is hospitable […] the poetic invention of hospitality” (2004: 13)12, the symbolism of which paradoxically reveals the invisible, for in the language of cooking are found the nuances of hospitalities and hostilities, the first often a reaction to the second: narrators cook to assuage traumatic memories, and resist the nihility of their immigrant condition13. The recipes that intersperse the narratives of culinary memoirs are materializable gifts, a way of inviting and of recognizing the other, with the additional potentiality of a symbolic exchange.

15Hospitality is thus a way of understanding oneself as well as the other, of exposing one’s culture as an invitation as well as a form of protection. Sirine, the heroine of Abu-Jaber’s novel Crescent, is described as a culinary “siren”, a mythical character traditionally associated with hidden spiritual knowledge. A friend who frequents her café says: “‘you’ve got the soul of a poet! Cooking and tasting is a metaphor for seeing. Your cooking reveals America to us non-Americans. And vice versa.’” (Crescent, 221) The copious homely Middle-Eastern dishes she cooks renders American culture less threatening and obscure to immigrants, as well as providing substance to their identity—or “cultural memory” as Abu-Jaber describes it (UO Today, n. pag.). However, the people who frequent the café often fail to shed their anonymity, lost to, as well as within, their culture. Sirine tries to save them, acutely aware of their invisibility: “Sometimes when I see those homeless people on the street […] I think I’ve never felt so close to anyone as those people. They know what it feels like—they live in between worlds so they’re not really anywhere. Exiled from themselves.” (Crescent, 183) Abu-Jaber’s Aunt Aya expresses this sentiment when talking about a Middle-Eastern pastry: “‘Palestinians love it because knafeh is like a home—which is something everyone longs for.’” (Language of Baklava, 261) Indeed Sirine in Crescent seeks to create a surrogate home for herself at the stove, as well as for the students and immigrants who frequent her café. They are recognized for who they are, yet they still slip into shadows, behind newspapers or in front of television news channels or soap operas, consuming culturally-spiced dishes. They appear for a time, then “they graduate and disappear, never to be seen again.” (Crescent, 23) They are exiles for whom, according to Avtar Brah’s definition of diaspora (2005), there is no return: “there is, of course, no going home” says Sirine’s refugee-exile boyfriend Han (Crescent, 24). Even the sacred tastes of home are declared ephemeral: “‘Chefs know—nothing lasts,’ […] ‘In the mouth, and then gone.’” (Cr, 57)

16In this sense, the food of immigrant hospitality reflects a reality in which, according to Michel de Certeau, “what can be seen designates what is no longer there” (1998: 106). Sirine bakes for she believes: “the baklava is important—it cheers the students up” (Crescent, 66), but the delicate pastry is vulnerable like the immigrants themselves, sensitive to emotions that cause the fragile dough to tear as she and Han struggle with its preparation and their confused feelings, their fragile communication across a culture divide tearing as they struggle to articulate their thoughts. Like the dish: “Everything about these young men seemed infinitely vulnerable and tender […] lonely, and young […] [A student] would tell her how painful it is to be an immigrant—even if it was what he’d wanted all his life […] For many of them the café was a little flavor of home” (Cr, 22). The café owner reminds her: “‘They all come to me because we make something like a home in this country. It helps. And most of them stay.’ She raises her eyebrows. ‘But lots of them go.’ […] ‘They don’t know how to carry their homes inside themselves.’” (Cr, 94) Her mother had taught her that the gestures of cooking were vital “meditations” on “hope and devotion” (Cr, 68), generous and nurturing.

17Sirine moves within a closely-defined space, her home, the café, a coffee shop and her boyfriend’s apartment. As her emotional life complicates, so its simple transparency, with its rituals of cooking and offering the hospitality of recognition, are obscured in a multi-faceted metaphor of opacity. An impenetrable mist swirls around her home, the café, its food and its refugees, seeking to invade her inner sanctums, a blurring of boundaries that symbolises the blurring between self and other and the dangers of assimilation: “the apartment is filled with a silver fog […] feeling like she’s awakened into someone else’s dream” (Crescent, 127), an infiltration that suggests she has entered a foreign territory. “The day is a sunburst of smog and mist […]” (Cr, 230) “The fog tries to seep inside the café […] Everything feels softer, all edges blunted, as if magic has trickled into the street” (Cr, 360), a hostile exterior seeping into her hospitable interior. The symbolism in Crescent extends to a flurry of volatile photographic images, as ephemeral as food; they are hidden, stolen, misperceived and misconstrued, like immigrant identities, private lives revealed in newspapers at the café, at exhibitions, in darkrooms.

  • 14 “Her veil is not there to conceal, but acts as a mediation between finite and infinite”: “Son voile (...)
  • 15 We may refer to William Safran’s conception of the homeland in the diasporic imagination in his art (...)

18The presence of a veil is a further symbol of concealment, suggestive of the immigrant’s shrouded perception of their place in the new world. The key to understanding—offered by Sirine’s food that is claimed to dissipate misunderstanding—must be found and exposed. Abu-Jaber highlights female symbols, those of the authenticity of cooking and the veil of discretion or concealment, as keys to acceptance and belonging. In this respect, they have an undeniable spiritual dimension14. These devices accentuate the myth-like quality surrounding the invisible and inaccessible homeland that occupies the diasporic imagination in this and other contemporary novels, as well in the generally accepted theories of the modern diasporic condition, notably that of William Safran15.

19The outside world is inimical, and orphaned Sirine’s reserve is founded on loss: “She never wants to go anywhere, she thinks. She never wants to leave her home […]” (Crescent, 153) “I couldn’t leave here. This is my life.” (Cr, 362) What she cannot see no longer exists for her, as in the case of her parents who never returned from their last fateful humanitarian mission. She finds her comfort in the tangibility of cooking for her customers in a self-created cloud of heat and steam. Food is healing for her: “[…] the only truth she seemed to possess—that food was better than love: surer, truer, more satisfying and enriching.” (Cr, 217–18) The café kitchen is her sanctuary, offering the ultimate hospitality of her own creation. Bính in The Book of Salt likewise finds refuge in the same self-administered hospitality:

I scramble to seek shelter in the kitchens of those who will take me. Every kitchen is a homecoming, a respite, where I am the village elder, sage and revered. Every kitchen is a familiar story that I can embellish with saffron, cardamom, bay laurel, and lavender […] During these restorative intervals, I am no longer the mute who begs at this city’s steps. […] I do not willing depart these havens. I am content to grow old in them, calling the stove my lover, calling the copper pans my children. (Book of Salt, 19)

20The neighbourhood Italian café where Sirine turns the pages of her family photo album, seems more hospitable to her than her “abandoned-living-room” (Crescent, 140); she is welcomed by the milky cappuccino that owner Eustavio “decided years ago to serve her” (Cr, 141) for, as food-writer Patience Gray says, hospitality is “to be able to discern precisely what your guests are in need of” (2009: 49). Indeed, as these works reveal, each immigrant cook is brought to question the notions of reception and welcome, using her culinary insight into the hospitalities and hostilities that define her existence to welcome strangers, as both host and guest, discerning the needs, and not merely the presence of the guest as inspired by Derrida’s “unconditional welcome”, at the same time as they tend to their own. With each authentic dish cooked, and each meal served, they endeavour to distance, or even dispel the hostility of obscurity, and create a space in which they can welcome firstly themselves and then others with honest and seeing transparency.

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Abu-Jaber Diana (2003), Crescent, New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Abu-Jaber Diana (2005), The Language of Baklava. A Memoir, New York: Random House.

Bardenstein Carol (2002), “Transmissions Interrupted: Reconfiguring Food, Memory, and Gender in the Cookbook-Memoirs of Middle Eastern Exiles”, Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(1), 353–387, <> (12 April 2020).

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Cassin Barbara (2013), La Nostalgie. Quand donc est-on chez soi ? Paris: Éditions Autrement.

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De Certeau Michel, Giard Luce & Mayol Pierre (1998), The Practice of Everyday Life, 2. Living and Cooking [New Rev. ed.] (T. J. Tomasik, trans.), Minneapolis: U of Minneapolis Press.

Ehrlich Elizabeth (1997), Miriam’s Kitchen. A Memoir, London: Penguin.

Gauvin Lise, L’Herault Pierre & Montandon Alain (2004), Le Dire de l’Hospitalité, Clermont-Ferrand: PU Blaise Pascal.

Gotman Anne (2004), Villes et hospitalité : les municipalités et leurs « étrangers », Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme.

Gray Patience (2009), Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia [1986], London: Prospect Books.

Horvilleur Delphine (2013), En tenue d’Eve. Féminin, pudeur et judaïsme, Paris: Grasset.

Krauss Nicole (2006), The History of Love, New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Martin Sasha (2015), Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, Washington: National Geographic.

Mclean Alice (2012), Aesthetic Pleasure in Twentieth-century Women’s Food Writing: The Innovative Appetites of M.F.K. Fisher, Alice B. Toklas, and Elizabeth David, New York: Routledge.

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1 “La poétique de l’altérité inaugure une double perspective entre l’intra- et l’extra-culturel dans son interrogation sur l’Autre, cet ‘étrange étranger’, inassimilable et invisible.” (Olivieri-Godet, 2010: 113) My translation.

2 Tahar Ben Jelloun suggests that the guest leaves the house empty when they go (Still, 2012: 9) diffusing a sense of absence.

3 An example of this collectively experienced sense of belonging is found in the same reassuring shopping expeditions to the ethnic stores on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue that are a recurrent scenario in several diasporic culinary memoirs. These places represent the semi-public homes to which Sara Bonfanti referred in her seminar “Threshold Matters: Revisiting the host-guest relationship in an ethnography of home and migration”, Université Grenoble-Alpes, 15 October 2020, IDEX HOMES project, ILCEA4.

4 “La frontière est une limite hospitalière garante de la diversité du monde […] l’amie du cosmopolitisme et de l’hospitalité” (Debray, 2012, n. pag.). My translation.

5 We recall Jacques Derrida’s law of unconditional hospitality: “[…] the necessary and impossible welcoming of the other with absolutely no conditions attached.” (Still, 2012: 14)

6 “L’Hospitalité se trouve au croisement de plusieurs questionnements postmodernes sur l’identité, l’appartenance, l’interaction culturelle et la pratique de l’écriture. Elle donne lieu à un discours d’ailleurs sur l’étranger, la mémoire et ses fictions, la poétique du déracinement, les passages, la migration et l’écriture migrante […].” (Gauvin et al., 2004: 9) My translation.

7 The principal works discussed in this article are referred to in citations by their titles: The Language of Baklava, The Book of Salt and Crescent and initials, respectively LB, BS and Cr.

8 A further notable and complimentary example is Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love (2006), a story of parallel, yet interwoven lives, which, like those of Truong’s characters, are marked by loss, exclusion and invisibility, and by meagre food, words and hope, that scarcely sustain life.

9 “Dans la vie politique ou dans les relations humaines, la transparence est perçue comme un gage de moralité, une promesse d’authenticité et de sincérité. Toute opacité relève, au contraire, de l’aveu de culpabilité ou de comportement suspect.” (Horvilleur, 2013: 11)

10 “L’hospitalité confère une autre dimension, tout aussi importante, a ce vécu de la famille et de la cuisine matérielle comme constructeur d’un chez-soi.” (Serfaty-Garzon, 2006: 27)

11 “On est chez soi quand on est hospité et reconnu […]” (Cassin, 2013: 14). My translation.

12 “La langue est hospitalière […] l’invention poétique de l’hospitalité” (Gauvin et al., 2004: 13). My translation.

13 A poignant example of such a memoir is the Holocaust-framed culinary memoir Miriam’s Kitchen. A Memoir by Elizabeth Ehrlich (1997), in which Holocaust survivor Miriam cooks to remember, to honour and to heal the past by feeding her family, and most importantly her grandchildren, the guardians of the future, in the present.

14 “Her veil is not there to conceal, but acts as a mediation between finite and infinite”: “Son voile n’est pas là pour cacher, mais agit comme médiation entre fini et infini”. (Horvilleur, 2013: 99) My translation.

15 We may refer to William Safran’s conception of the homeland in the diasporic imagination in his article (1991: 83–99).

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Virginia Allen-Terry Sherman, « Hospitality and Hostility: Confronting the Invisible in the “Transparency” of Food Narratives »ILCEA [En ligne], 50 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2023, consulté le 28 mars 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Virginia Allen-Terry Sherman

Univ. Grenoble Alpes, ILCEA4, 38000 Grenoble, France.

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