On the Shelf: Memoir of the Sunday Brunch

Friday, 13 March 2015
If you've been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know that I love reading and reviewing memoirs... especially if they have anything to do with food.

My latest favorite (I just finished it today) is Julia Pandl's Memoir of the Sunday Brunch. She sucks readers in with fantastically humorous accounts of her father's behaviors as a manager of a restaurant. He rules over employees with cold smiles while shouting and "twitches," cooks fantastic meals (but not for his family), knows all of the techniques of a professionally trained chef, and regularly uses all nine of his children as staff to oversee his restaurant's Sunday brunches.

The first part of the memoir is funny, heavy, and worthy of a second study due to the fantastically detailed experiences of Julia. She is the youngest of a Matriarchal, Catholic family and hates de-boning fish. One of the chapters is dedicated almost entirely to her first hangover - on a Sunday morning. It doesn't matter that she can barely lift her head off of the pillow. She is in charge of helping her father (as well as her siblings) with Sunday brunch. He realizes that she is suffering and once in the restaurant's kitchen, bites the "cheek" out of a fish and chews it in front of Julia with a smile, pointing out that her job that morning is to de-bone all of the fish - and quickly. It is Sunday brunch and she explains the excruciating way that she holds it together before finally vomiting. 

The second part of the memoir also pulls the reader in - but in a different way. The concept of suffering is examined in-depth by Julia as she watches her mother decline from diabetes with not only the amputation of her foot but numerous surgeries. Mrs. Pandl keeps a brave face (as she always has) and holds fast to her Catholic faith and particular saints. 

After her death, the generous but fastidious Mr. Pandl seems to be on a downward slope to depression. The children reconnect with him and remember their mother's dying wish - "Take care of dad."

Julia takes ultimate care of him when he is diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 80. She moves in with him and chronicles his downfall. While depressing, there is moment of light and clarity when "George" (as the kids all call him) continues to decline but says that he has lived a "wonderful life" and is happy. In one of the last scenes of her father's dramatic life, Julia talks about the night that the priest comes to read last rites. He shows up and almost all of the Pandl children are sitting around George's bed sipping Stella with him. The priest accepts a beer and they laugh, share stories, and pray. 

There are many take-aways from this memoir. That's why I don't want to write about what was particularly meaningful to me. This memoir will take to readers in different ways. It is certainly worth a read and you can finish it in a weekend. Enjoy and let me know what you think. 

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