Wednesday, June 17, 2009

REVIEW: Forbidden Bread, by Erica Johnson Debeljak

Forbidden Bread, by Erica Johnson Debeljak. Published 2009 by North Atlantic Books. Memoir.

I read this book courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Forbidden Bread is Erica Johnson Debeljak's memoir of moving to Slovenia to be with her boyfriend, poet AleŇ° Debeljak. The book follows her journey and their relationship from its beginnings in New York City, when Erica, as an American, was considered "forbidden bread"- someone that AleŇ° wasn't supposed to fall in love with. But fall in love they do, and before long she's leaving it all behind to settle into the newly-minted country of Slovenia, fresh from its split from the former Yugoslavia.

Debeljak covers a variety of experiences and topics, from her wedding planning, language lessons and food shopping, as well as the history and culture of the region. Her treatment of politics strikes me as a tad superficial though and she's at her best when she's staying close to home; the chapters about her first pregnancy and the birth of their first child is funny and scary and easy to relate to- culture clashes range from when to wear socks to how to diaper a baby. Debeljak writes an engaging fish-out-of-water story and comes across as likable and interesting. She also peppers the book with photographs of friends and family, bringing her convincing characterizations to life.

The book is pleasant enough, though the first few chapters read more like chick lit and it took me a while to settle into the flow of the narrative. Debeljak is a fine, competent writer and the book is quite accessible and readable, but I would recommend the book to those who are interested in the Balkans and already fairly well-informed as to the region's recent history. Forbidden Bread is a personal memoir, not a history, and I think a reader with no other background in the region might feel lost. I wouldn't call Forbidden Bread electrifying reading but it's enjoyable and light, and provides an interesting glimpse into the culture of a little-known country.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from for a review to be shared with its users. LibraryThing is not affiliated with the publisher.