Cover Image: Be My Guest

Be My Guest

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Member Reviews

Be My Guest is a quick read about Priya Basil's experience and beliefs concerning food, hosting, hospitality, and generosity. I thought it was quite a unique way to frame her story & this book has a comforting way about it. While I think it works best as a sort of coffee table book, Basil's observations and understandings of how being a guest in someone's home offers deep insight into their personality and their core values. I think I will feel differently each time I attend a dinner party or gathering at someone's home. The way they serve their food or present their food, the decor they've set out, the drinks to accompany dinner, if the host greets each individual guest as they enter, etc. The whole book was interesting food for thought for any human who entertains or attends in-home events. Also something quite bittersweet to think about during a pandemic. I found it comforting to think of a time when this will all happen again.
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Priya Basil's reflections on food and community are exactly that: stream of consciousness reflections on the experience of hosting and being hosted in the form of what really seems to be a long-form essay. Born in England and raised in Kenya by an Indian family before moving back to England and eventually to Germany, Basil represents such a diversity of flavors and experiences, and this was a joy to read. 

I loved the descriptions of Basil's grandmother, Mumji, who cooked absurd amounts for every meal, every day, leaving the family with five freezers full of leftovers that were never eaten. All the more so, I loved the honesty with which she was portrayed. Refusing to serve leftovers, Basil presents Mumji as constantly complaining about the responsibility of preparing all this food for her husband and family, a contradictory trait that seems to have been passed down to Basil's own mother and eventually to herself. 

Basil describes herself also as something of a glutton, obsessed with flavors, spices, and whole eating experience, filling the book with memories of stuffing herself to the bursting at her mother's or grandmother's table or, especially, at the Sikh communal meal, where she and her siblings salivated over the sweet semolina-based bread that came before the meal itself. 

And yet, this book is about more than food. Indeed, more than anything, this is a book about community. Basil smoothly incorporated linguistic details--did you know that hospitality comes from the same root as hostility?--and a broader analysis of society. The role of food in the experience of race, racism, and refugees is significant, and the exploration of national hospitality through the lens of the changing demographics of the E.U., as well as the oxymoronic "hospitality industry" was powerful.

Quick, wide-reaching, and sassy, this book made me smile; I only wish there had been slightly more text on the actual food! Recipes, descriptions, pictures--I love food writing because of the access to dishes that I have never experienced and may or may not enjoy actually eating. With so many different dishes in her personal background, Basil had such a wonderful opportunity for this kind of sharing, and I think she left a little to be desired in that respect.
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What It Means to Stay Home, in Shelf Awareness for Readers, January 15, 2021:

My 17-month-old son has spent the majority of his life at home, so the beauty of And the People Stayed Home (Tra Publishing, $18.99), a picture book by Kitty O'Meara that honors the importance of staying home and staying in during the Covid-19 pandemic, is probably lost on him. As someone who remembers a time when we used to go places and do things, however, I find myself drawn to its quiet, subtle way of capturing all that staying home has meant.

Alone Together, edited by Jennifer Haupt (Central Avenue, $16.99) explores this theme in more depth through interviews, essays, poems from 90 contributors. Zadie Smith's Intimations: Six Essays (Penguin, $10.95) considers the experience of living through a global pandemic. The slim collection graced many "best of 2020" lists, and I've just asked my local indie to put a copy on hold for my next curbside pickup.

In addition to making me ever more grateful to have a place to call home, the experience of staying in for so many months left me curious about the very concept of home. I dug out my old copy of Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Anchor, $17), and found in Bryson's balance of serious thought, humorous comments and random tidbits for trivia a lens through which I am re-experiencing my own home.

Similarly, in Be My Guest (Knopf, $19.95), Priya Basil uses the act of serving food to others as a way of exploring identity and community. While it may be some time before we're in a position to host others, this book, like all others on this list, brings a newfound appreciation of all that we had, all that we still have, and all that we can look forward to again--hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
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I started reading this thinking it was supposed to be about food. It is, and it is so much more. Priya Basil weaves in her personal and family experience of being an Indian family, growing up in Nigeria, immigrating to London, and immigrating again to Germany. She adds in history, religion, culture, family dynamics, personal reflection, philosophy, and current affairs. The end result is an intelligent tale about immigration and being a guest, and the role food plays.
She said she wrote this book as she was procrastinating from writing a novel. She writes so beautifully in non-fiction that I can’t wait to read her fiction. I learned so much and it was a real joy.
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In <i>Be My Guest</i>, Priya Basil evaluates and compares what it means to be both the guest and the host at the dinner table by weaving through stories of her past, her “insatiable” love for food, and her Sikh heritage. Part food memoir, part call for decency through the act of hospitality, this moving, clever novel will both ensnare the senses and provide a unique perspective on the refugee crisis across the world.
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Priya Basil's "Be My Guest" is a wonderful reflection on what it means to be a host or guest in the presence of others. During a time when the political, social, and economic landscape is so uncertain in many parts of the world (Basil was born in London, raised in Kenya, and lives in Germany), she asks the reader to breakdown the meaning of hospitality - how do we extend this in all of the aforementioned areas of our lives? Can people from opposing sides really break bread at the same table? Can countries welcome immigrants into their communities with the promise of keeping them safe, secure, and productive members? Can we, as a society who are merely guests on this planet, turn our bad track record around and save our only home? I truly enjoyed this thought-provoking novel and Basil's passion for cooking and eating really hit it out of the park for me; I enjoy those things as well! At times, the story got away from itself but, overall, it's a wonderful read.
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Be My Guest by Priya Basil is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early November.

The global desire to care and provide for others, whether or not the reader is a parent, to know their needs before they do, a veritable feast at the ready if someone asks. Crikey, this is how my mom is. Not only that, Basil speaks of bemoaning the scarcity of familiar/always-been-around food when you need it the most, altruism towards those outside of your scope who have next to nothing, the lack of fresh drinking water, and caring for those entering a country for asylum and/or as a refugee.
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A brief collection of Priya Basil's ruminations on the meaning and purpose of hospitality, both in the personal and political sense. Basil begins with a discussion of the meanings of food for her and her family growing up as a British Indian in Kenya, but meanders through a myriad of topics such as colonialism; philanthropy; her Sikh religion and its community-food-sharing traditions; and, most substantially, hospitality as it relates to immigrants and refugees. I loved the connections between her personal reflections on what it means to serve guests', but also her larger thoughts on her experiences feeling welcome (and unwelcome) in Berlin (where she now calls home) in juxtaposition with the experiences of recent immigrants to the European Union. If you like personal essays and food writing, I think you would get a lot out of this short work.

Thank you to Knopf for providing me with an early e-copy of this work through Netgalley. Be My Guest is out this coming Tuesday, November 3.
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Ambitious and ethereal though this reader desires a more punctuated sense of author’s purpose. Subtle political commentary regarding food in all its aspects are made and the impact at the table and erosion of community are delivered quietly. However readers don’t actually experience food and instead get served courses of sentiment, philosophy and solution. While the writing is lovely it simply didn’t deliver in any direction since it felt unclear.
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Sikh community is amazing. Just recently I was reading about their tradition to assist people in need due to disasters, most notably wildfires in California, but also as part of their faith, in offering food and service to those in need.  Their generosity is amazing and should serve as a lesson to all of us. It was a wonderful in-depth read of Ms. Basil's  Sikh heritage.
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Be My Guest is an often philosophical meditation on hospitality, food, and relationships.   This is a long-form essay, clocking in at a little over 100 pages, so easily read in a couple of hours.   In this book, Priya Basil shares some personal anecdotes of growing up as part of an Indian family in Kenya.   She speaks of her mother's cooking and how her favorite dishes bring up feelings of comfort and satisfaction.   She covers what hospitality means at the family level and the community level.   Basil also discusses her time living in Germany and what "hospitality" means in regards to the large influx of Syrian refugees.   This is a deeply thought out wandering exploration of hospitality that runs the gamut from personal to global.   This is an good read for anyone interested in food, community, and social issues.
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I was *really* excited to dive into this book. Not only was it my first publisher-approved NetGalley request, but if you happened to be looking for my heart, you would find it sitting contentedly at the crossroads of food x literature--chef bios, hungry traveler journals, "my life in recipes"...I love it all. 

With that in mind, I think I was expecting something a little different from Ms. Basil. I enjoyed her memories of the religious services she spent plotting how to sneak extra portions of semolina-based karah parshad, and her reflections on meals shared with hundreds of strangers all scattered around the floor. I ate up (pun intended) the portions of her story devoted to the admiration of her Mumji's aggressive, accusatory brand of hospitality. Her ruminations on the meaning of the word 'hospitality,' too, were intriguing and insightful--she clearly did her homework. While her writing was strong as a whole, I found myself yearning for some richer detail, or maybe even a recipe stuck at the end of a chapter, so that I could better understand some of the dishes she referred to. (I firmly believe that you can enrich your palate by consuming the written descriptions of dishes you may never actually eat.)

Where I think the book diverged from my interests, though, was in her exploration of some of the more challenging topics facing European Union citizens and lawmakers in light of the current refugee crisis. Perhaps it's because I fall into neither of those categories, but I found these excerpts to be a little fragmented, or dissatisfying. She brought up a lot of interesting, thoughtful suggestions, but without much background on the subject, I felt a little left behind. It seemed as though she was posing a lot of suggestions without spending much time to unpack or develop her concepts. This also may be a result of the formatting presented in my ARC (so take my notes with a grain of salt), but I had a hard time judging the 'flow' of the overall piece. With appropriate page and chapter breaks, it could be much easier to navigate, but as it was, I felt like I was bobbing along in her stream of consciousness. 

In hindsight, I'd be interested to read the review of someone closer to the author's own background. I appreciated the cultural picture she painted, but I found it hard to connect with. I would recommend this to other friends who work in hospitality, like I do, as well as folks with more of a political or cultural touchstone in Europe. Ultimately, though, it doesn't quite hit the mark as a 'must-read' for me.
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I hesitate to call this a memoir, auto-biography, or any label such as that.  It wasn't about the author so much as it was about her thoughts on the world, particularly as the title suggests: food, community and generosity.  And she does cover these three topics, some more than others, to lay out her experiences and views with how she's seen the world evolve and how community and generosity often go hand in hand (and of course a lot of times food is involved).

We are introduced to Basil by her love of food and never having 'enough'.  She had enough in the real sense, but not in the want sense, which she describes for herself as insatiable.  This theme kind of runs through all of her experiences where she has a worry of self (she's actually quite honest about herself in this book and that was refreshing) even though she has been brought up in a family that values community and takes hosting very seriously.  The book meanders from there to different types of hosting, explores the Sikh community and their open table, and even reflects on friendly dinners and the hosting attributes of those.  It also talks about immigration and the hosting of immigrants in her country of Germany.

I almost want to call this stream of consciousness writing.  While it's elegantly done and Basil is an exceptional writer, it did meander all over the place and didn't always have smooth transitions.  Not really my style of book, but she did hit on a lot of different topics.  And admittedly, when the first reflection in the title is 'food' I expected maybe more thorough descriptions of food.  There were some, but maybe I'm just as insatiable in my want as the author.

This was a good book, with interesting topics.  While it didn't end up being to my taste entirely, it was a quick read and I even learned a little.

Review by M. Reynard 2020
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I am not a fan of this book. It’s not a terrible book; it’s just not my personal preference. It was originally published in Germany – and that may influence its overall format. Plus, the author was born in London, her family is Indian and she was raised in Kenya. Instead of adding intrigue, this dynamic just adds confusion. The eclectic writing style presented the ‘reflections’ in a random, disjointed format. There was little flow or cohesion. And there are no recipes – family or otherwise – which seems to be a huge miss. There are tidbits of historical information. And many of the reflections shed a light on how hospitality has been extended throughout the recent immigration surge in Europe. 

I received an advance digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
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A lovely read a book of family food traditions.The author shares with us her family her culture their traditions..With every special dish every bite of food you feel the love that is channeled through the traditional food celebrations.Perfect read to bring memories dishes particular food .the company we share.#netgalley #bemyguest
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This was a great book! I enjoyed the story and how it was mixed with cultural traditions and mindful ideas. It was very interesting to read about the importance of food in various cultures. I received this as a free digital ARC and the only thing I didn’t like was the formatting. It was very hard to read because of the spacing and I hope that can be resolved in the printed version.
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When life for the entire universe and planet turns on its end and like everyone else you "have nothing to do" while your place of work is closed and you are in #COVID19 #socialisolation,  superspeed readers like me can read 250+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. (I have played a "zillion games" of scrabble, done a "zillion crosswords" and I AM BORED!!!)

I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.  

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

A thought-provoking meditation on food, family, identity, immigration, and, most of all, hospitality--at the table and beyond--that's a part food memoir, part appeal for more authentic decency in our daily worlds, and in the world at large.

Be My Guest is an utterly unique, deeply personal meditation on what it means to tend to others and to ourselves--and how the two things work hand in hand. Priya Basil explores how food--and the act of offering food to others--are used to express love and support. Weaving together stories from her own life with knowledge gleaned from her Sikh heritage; her years spent in Kenya, India, Britain, and Germany; and ideas from Derrida, Plato, Arendt, and Peter Singer, 

Basil focuses an unexpected and illuminating light on what it means to be both a host and a guest. Lively, wide-ranging, and impassioned, Be My Guest is a singular work, at once a deeply felt plea for a kinder, more welcoming world and a reminder that, fundamentally, we all have more in common than we imagine.

This is less a book about food and more a book about "the philosophy".of food and family and community and hospitality. COVID19 has turned the world into a bunch of selfish hoarders and this bok's call for kindness speaks volumes.

It is not a fluffy read, but an enjoyable one none-the-less: I have zero problems recommending it to interested adults.
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