cover image Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees

Bite by Bite: Nourishments and Jamborees

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Ecco, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-328226-1

Poet Nezhukumatathil (World of Wonders) presents a smorgasbord of concise and lyrical odes to foods linked to some of her most important memories. She associates saba bananas, a Philippine staple, with a vacation she took to the country, where she felt the kicks of her first baby in utero (“I’m convinced I had the quickening—this baby jumping—earlier than expected, because [he] was enjoying the delicious foods of his Lola’s country”). Mangosteen fruit—“a cage trap of lightning, a sheen of sugar in a bowl”—brings to mind a trip to Hawaii with her husband. Other pieces unravel foods’ complicated origins and histories, including an ode to vanilla and Edmond Albius, the enslaved boy who in 1841 developed a revolutionary technique for pollinating the plants (white botanists attempted to take credit for his method). The author’s dazzling prose is the highlight, though her loose and associative internal logic can sometimes make the connections she draws feel tenuous or underdeveloped (a brief entry notes the proximity between the Buffalo grocery store that was the site of a 2022 mass shooting and an orchard where she and her sons once picked apples, leading to the somewhat odd observation that “there are not apples enough to cure this country’s sickness”). Readers will find this to be an appealing if inconsistent banquet. (May)