Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Book Review: Keeping the Feast

A vacation on the beach means lots of time to read to the music of the waves gently lapping on the beach. I ripped through several books while in Playa del Carmen, but the one that I think would be of most interest to my Gentle Readers is Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini (available on Kindle, which is how I read it.)

This is a memoir that combines the author's love of food, family and her husband in the midst of personal tragedies and the daunting toll that drug-resistant depression takes on the one affected by it and by those who love them.

Paula Butturini and her husband John Tagliabue were both reporters when they met in Italy. At one time Paula was assigned to the religion beat, but was transferred to international affairs and sent to Europe. Her husband had spent several years in a Carthusian monastery as a young man, where his first real bout of depression began.

Within a month of their marriage, she was severely beaten and he was shot and nearly died while covering an uprising in Romania. Although he recovered from his wounds after a tough year, his depression became severe and resistant to drug therapy. This lasted for several years during which Paula lost the man she loved to his illness and struggled with finding her own best response to it.

What she discovered was that the celebration of the mundane tasks of marketing, preparing, cooking and eating meals together brought a grace ( may I call it a quotidian grace?) to an otherwise tragic situation.

The suicide of her own mother from depression and the denial of her family to that situation at first kept her from finding her best response but later enabled her to take the wisdom she learned from that to talk to her own daughter about her father's illness. She also found that an inexhaustible patience was not always helpful and that anger and rage sometimes could be.

The role of the Paula and John's faith in the situation are not major themes of this book, but are only subtly suggested. I wish she had written more explicitly about it.

It would be hard to find someone who had not been touched by depression in some way. Portia and Babs lost a dear friend over Christmas to this illness and are still grieving him. My mother and other members of my family have suffered from depression in various degrees but the older generation refused to acknowledge it or seek any help in dealing with it.

Kudos to Paula Butturini for writing about about her experiences, sharing the wisdom she gained, and inspiring me to return with joy to my kitchen and the daily tasks of life.


Gannet Girl said...

Thank you for this review, QG.

My ggm suffered from bipolar disorder and spent significant parts of her adult life institutionalized for it. Her daughter, my very beloved gm, almost never mentioned it, despite the fact that as an only child she bore most of the burden of her mother's care (her father died in his 50s) while raising her own three children.

Depression -- unacknowledged, unrecognized, and untreated -- was clearly at issue in our own family tragedy. How many times I have wished that my gm had been more forthcoming. Perhaps I would have seen things I didn't know to see.

My deepest condolences to Portia and Babs.

Quotidian Grace said...

I thought of you often, GG, while reading this book. It gave me some additional insights into my mother and her untreated, unacknowledged (she really resisted any suggestion there was anything wrong) depression.

Paula Butturini said...

I am nearing the end of my book tour, up in Portsmouth, NH, where it was snowing hard this morning, and just found your review; thank you for having written about Keeping the Feast so thoughtfully and positively. I see you're from Sugar Land, and loved the coincidence: a recent article in the Houston Chronicle about my book led a long lost cousin who lives in Sugar Land to get in touch with me. Wonderful!

Quotidian Grace said...


I'm so glad you liked the review. I really loved your book--you are an excellent writer.

In fact, the Houston Chronicle review is what got me to read it.

Hope your tour goes well and brings you south to some pleasant weather soon!

zorra said...

I so look forward to reading this. I missed the Chronicle review, so thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

Presbyterian Gal said...

This sounds like a good book. My story is similar, though does not have much of the positive elements.

Thanks for the recommendation.