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No two curries are the same. Curry asks why the dish is supposed to represent everything brown people eat, read, and do. Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations. By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity.
With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s Karma Cola and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s Heat, Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavour calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters.
Following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands, Curry cracks open anew the staid narrative of an authentic Indian diasporic experience.
‘Ruthnum picks apart Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry, Daniyal Mueenudin, Shoba Narayan, Madhur Jaffrey, and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle with a thoughtful ambivalence that exhibits an admirable intellectual honesty…It’s fun to watch him think.’
‘In Curry: Eating, Reading and Race, Ruthnum has written a curry book—the word ‘curry’ certainly appears more times than one could count—but it’s one where he explores what it means to be a brown person on his own terms. It’s not a brown nostalgia tale. There are no mangoes. There are no scattered cardamom seeds…By defying what ingredients he’s expected to put into his curries, what he’s expected to read and what he should write about, Ruthnum issues to other brown writers a call to arms to break out of the box that the west insists on putting them in.’
‘Drawing parallels between food and literature, Ruthnum writes incisively about the danger of letting a singular narrative abound when it’s a narrative that creates stereotypes and feeds tired notions of what it means to be part of the Indian diaspora…But by playing the messy notions of what a curry is or isn’t, Ruthnum has penned his own currybook, albeit one that tells the story of what it means to be a brown person on his own terms without pandering to external preconceptions of what South Asian writing should be.’