Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin.THE SETTLER’S COOKBOOK: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food. 2008. Portobello Books. London, UK. ISBN 978-1-84627-083-3

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Settlers Cookbook In her dedication the author thanks her mother for the gifts of “mettle, a wakeful conscience…and a precious supply of inventive recipes that tell our story.”

This very personal and frank autobiography shows how well the author, a writer, teacher and mother, has used these gifts to make a life for herself and her family in England after she is forced, along with thousands of others of Asian descent, to leave Uganda when Idi Amin came to power.

Alibhai-Brown needed the nettle to overcome the vicissitudes of personal trauma, racism, economic uncertainty and alienation when she has to live in the UK, the mother country which had been much admired by the Asian settlers in Africa. England was a shock, full of prejudices and petty cruelty which intensified later when racism became official policy under Thatcher and later Labour, by anti-Islam opinions fuelled by the controversy over Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the attack on buildings in the USA and the war on Iraq.

All the difficult times are met with the creativity of food, the pleasure of eating food that is rooted in the memory of her rich culture. Her mother, Jena, is always there, cooking, child minding, supportive and fiercely protective of her daughter, even when she challenges traditional social and religious values. The author’s conscience is ever active, judging herself, often harshly; she never spares the self-criticism while coping with the personal problems that beset many people – a marriage betrayed, divorce, single parenthood and conflicting social values -while also trying to find her place and identity in yet another culture. Her people had felt some security in Uganda although there was always a separation between indigenous Africans and those of Asian descent who could not call themselves African.

By the end of the book the author has remarried happily; England, or at least London, has become more cosmopolitan and she has been recognized as a writer whose opinions are worthy of consideration and publication. A trip to Uganda shows her that she no longer belongs there.    “…after my last spell in East Africa, I know where I belong…London…The city where no one belongs is where I belong.”

She has blended her own family into the diversity of England and she still cooks wonderful food; I may try some of the tempting recipes, but more than anything I would love to drop into her generous kitchen and swap stories with this woman I am sure I would love instantly on first meeting.


Filed under Book Reviews, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown