cover image Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and Other Lies)

Departure Stories: Betty Crocker Made Matzoh Balls (and Other Lies)

Elisa Bernick. Indiana Univ, $22 trade paper (246p) ISBN 978-0-25306-407-3

Journalist Bernick (The Family Sabbatical Handbook) delivers a poignant, witty, and often painful chronicle of growing up in a Jewish family in a predominantly Christian suburb of Minneapolis in the 1960s. She and her family were tolerated but certainly not accepted, being treated to a “different perspective of Minnesota’s brand of ‘nice.’ ” Bernick draws in the reader with humor and pathos as she recalls running away at age five and riding the bus for hours without really being noticed (until she returned home to a beating and then apology from her apoplectic mother). Her attempts at assimilation, she writes, left her feeling invisible: “Jews. They’re a little... different,” is how she sums up the midwestern “nuanced antisemitism.” Anecdotes follow as she recounts her grandfather’s story (in a “Polish/Russian accent”) of keeping back the cream when the family’s cow’s milk was stolen by Nazis, and her mother’s determined and defiant run in the Mrs. Minnesota contest. Punctuated with sections such as “Three Jewish Jokes,” a brief history of Betty Crocker as a modern woman archetype, and a recipe for Waikiki meatballs (a dish that led her parents to bicker about the price of canned pineapple), Bernick’s nimble storytelling has much to love. It’s an insightful and spot-on mélange of perfectly preserved stories on place, history, and family. (Oct.)