Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Book Review and Recipe: What Tears Us Apart by Deborah Cloyed and Kenyan Corn and Bean Stew for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I feel somewhat guilty about the timing of this book review. When author Deborah Cloyed sent me an email a few months back and asked if I would be willing to read and review her second book, What Tears Us Apart, (I had reviewed her first book The Summer We Came To Life two years ago), I immediately said yes. I got the book in early April, and there it sat on my nightstand. I found it difficult to get past the prologue, which starts with a sexual assault on the main character. (Not a spoiler--it is the first few pages of the book.) Books create, capture and/or reinforce moods for me and between the disturbing first scene and fact that the novel is set in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi, during a time of great political turmoil and violent upheaval in Kenya, it was a mood I found myself not wanting to delve into for a time. Finally, one night I picked it back up, made my way beyond the first few pages, and found myself caught up in the story and finishing the book in a couple of days. I am sorry it took me that long to read it because, much as parts of it were tough to read, I really enjoyed the book. 

At its heart, What Tears Us Apart is a love story between Leda, an American woman, raised with wealth and at 32, still restlessly searching for a calling, and Ita, raised in the Kibera slums and now running a small orphanage there. Leda, looking up career and then adding meaningful on a Google search, finds a posting for a volunteer opportunity at the Triumph Orphanage and applies. Although almost polar opposites in life, Leda and Ita both have dark pasts that, along with their current situation and the unstable Kenyan environment, stand in the way of their deepening relationship. What can tear us apart is just as much those internal "little monsters" that live inside our heads as the external obstacles that surround us. With the Kenyan elections in December 2007, life in the slums becomes even more volatile as violence and civil unrest break out and those external obstacles become life-threatening. 

Paperback: 319 pages
Harlequin Mira Publishers

The book goes back and forth in time, namely during the period of a few months and told primarily from either or Leda and Ita's perspective. Occasionally the back and forth broke up the flow for me--I found myself several times going back to the chapter heading to remind myself where in time we were, but overall it does lead to the suspense of the story as the reader gradually uncovers the different characters' secrets and motivations and finds out what really happened. Cloyed spent time volunteering in East Africa and her descriptions of Kenya are both jarring and moving--particularly the scenes of the slums. Although Leda and Ita are the main focus, the supporting characters--the orphan boys, Mary the orphanage cook, Chege--local gang leader-mobster and Ita's childhood friend and protector, and Kioni--Ita's friend and first love are well written for the time they are given in the story. The characters are all very human--no one is as good or innocent, or as dark and evil as they may seem. It's not always an easy book to read, but What Tears Us Apart is a literary love story that entertained, transported me to a different place, taught me about Kenya and its politics, and caused me to think--making it a level above your average romance. I'm glad I kept reading.      

Although not a "foodie" book, there is food throughout the novel. Mary cooks rice, stews and chapatis at the orphanage. In order to raise funds, Ita runs safari tours and cooks "luxury camping" meals for foreign guests (I was tempted to make homemade creamy celery and onion soup Ita served). The Christmas feast is chunks of greasy smoky goat meat and Leda gives the boys candy and small gifts for the holidays. I ended up deciding that a simple Kenyan stew was what best represented the book to me and found a recipe from Whole Foods--any chance to use fresh local corn. I did feel the need to add some cumin to bump up the flavor but I did some googling and cumin is one of the spices used in Kenya, so I feel somewhat justified! ;-)

Whole Foods Market says, "This simple, nourishing stew, githeri, originated with the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya. Today it is eaten throughout the country as a staple dish. Inspired by Whole Planet Foundation® microcredit client recipes."

Kenyan Corn and Bean Stew
Adapted from Whole Foods Market
(Serves 4)

1 cup dried kidney beans, soaked overnight, or 2 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 Tbsp tomato paste
3 cups corn kernels, fresh (from 4 ears) or frozen
2 potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
(I added 2 tsp ground cumin)
3/4 tsp fine sea salt

If using dried beans, drain and place in a medium saucepot. Cover by 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook about 1 hour or until tender. Drain.

In a large high-sided skillet or saucepot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook 10 minutes or until tender and golden, stirring occasionally. (Stir in cumin and cook for 1 minute, stirring.) Add tomato paste and cook another minute, stirring. Add cooked beans, corn, potatoes, 4 cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender and most liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Notes/Results: A simple, humble and nourishing vegan bowl of stew that seems perfect for the book. The corn adds sweetness to the mix of beans and potatoes and I enjoyed the smoky taste that the cumin I added provided. A stew like this would probably be enjoyed with chapatis (unleavened flat bread), but was satisfying enough on its own. Nothing fancy, but filling and good and I would make it again.

Note: A review copy of What Tears Us Apart was provided to me by the author. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

I am sending this book review post to Novel Food, a culinary/literary event hosted by my friend and fellow Cook the Books host Simona at Briciole. This is the 19th edition of this event when great food and great books come together. Check back at Simona's blog for the roundup soon.
Let's see who is in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week!

Sandra of Meadows Cooks is back with a bright and refreshing Cold Minty Pea Soup and says, "With the weather heating up no one is interested in turning on the stove, and certainly not the oven. Here is the perfect summer meal, involving no cooking, few ingredients, little preparation, and it is so refreshing.

Mireille of Chef Mireille's Global Creations has two dishes this week. First this healthy Kale Chickpea Soup. She says, "This is one of the easiest soup recipes ever. Stick everything in a blender and then heat. It's ease is what made my decision to try this recipe first. You can be sitting down, enjoying this protein and vegetable packed soup in 20 minutes. Using coconut milk, this creamy soup is dairy free so appropriate for those who are lactose intolerant."

Next Mireille shares a hearty Carrot and Mung Bean Salad and says, "I am having so much fun discovering UK celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi and today I am presenting another one of his delicious salad recipes. Like me, he uses global ingredients from every culture. Full of warm, smoky spices, this recipe packs some powerful flavor into the two star ingredients."

Joanne from Eats Well With Others brings this colorful Thai Millet Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing and says, "This was another one of The.Boy's "random pinterest picks". I haven't talked about them much, but he always manages to choose the strangest, most out there things. Things that he would have never chosen for himself were he not essentially pulling a random recipe out of a hat. Not that this was particularly strange, but it does contain cabbage (which he hates) and a grain base (which he thinks is boring), so the odds were really against it. Now if I had chosen this and set it in front of him, he would have crinkled his nose and said, skeptically,"Do I like this?", but because he chose it, he dug right in. And loved it."

Traveling this week, Janet of The Taste Space offers up two salads, first up this road trip friendly Avocado and Sauerkraut Salad with a Creamy Miso-Ginger Dressing. Janet says, "I brainstormed before I left. What can I easily find at grocery stores? What would pack well? For some reason, I kept returning to salads with avocado and lemon. Easy, peasy. Throw in some nuts/seeds, cooked beans or tofu as an easy protein. And then I decided sauerkraut would be a wonderful addition, too."

Janet's second salad is this sunshine-hued Chickpea and Apricot Salad with Pineapple-Ginger-Cilantro Dressing. she says, "One of the recipes Tess included is one of my favourites from her first book: Black Bean, Cilantro and Apricot Salad. I routinely make it, changing ingredients, matching what I have in my kitchen.This time, I swapped the black beans for chickpeas; the mango juice for pineapple juice; swapped the corn for more carrots and scrapped the spinach altogether. Combined with the sweet dried apricots and cilantro-ginger spiked dressing, you have a delicious summer bean salad. Sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy.. It is really hard to mess it up."

Tigerfish of Teczcape - An Escape to Food shares a summery Pasta Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Baby Kale and says, "As much as I enjoy hot warming soups all year round, a change of seasons usually switches our eating habits - from hearty wholesome stews to light, fresh vegetables and/or fruit salads... With heirloom tomatoes, it is a great time to inject freshness and juicy sweetness to this light and flavorful pasta dish."

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog brings a sweet and tangy Oranges and Beet Salad in White Balsamic Vinegar. She says, "Cooking beets looks intimidating, but it's really really easy. If you do decide to cook some, you can try  this simple, tasty, cold recipe that makes a great side for a BBQ or a tasty accompaniment for any dinner on a hot summer night. I love the color combination of the ruby red beets and vibrant oranges. It makes a beautiful presentation."

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week! If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy healthy week!


  1. www.teczcape.blogspot.comJune 30, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    The Kenyan stew is such a all-in-one: carbs (potatoes), proteins (beans) and veggies! Thanks for the round up.

  2. I love that this stew is full of only really basic ingredients, but still seems so delicious!

  3. I totally understand the feeling of not being in the right mood for a book. This sounds like an interesting and challenging story. I think a hearty stew is called for and I like the combination of ingredients. Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.

  4. Rachel JagareskiJuly 4, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    Looks like a good, if tough to read, novel. And your Kenyan stew looks sumptuous!

  5. http://sweetalmondtree.blogspoJuly 8, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    We both visited Africa for this round of Novel Food...
    I really like wjat you cooked. Corn, beans, potatoes, a little cumin... Must have been wonderful!

  6. This book sounds intriguing! And I love it when books that are particularly *about* food inspire dishes!


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