Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: Bagels & Grits: A Jew on the Bayou

Title: Bagels & Grits: A Jew on the Bayou
Author: Jennifer Anne Moses
Publisher: Terrace Books
ISBN: 0-299-22440-6
Price: $26.95, Publication Date: 2007, Page Count: 166

I do not know what I thought I was getting when I picked this memoir up. Something humorous, perhaps. The title of another Moses' book is FOOD & WHINE. Something Jewish, of course. So many of my lovers were and friends are Jewish that I am perpetually attracted to that subject. And the bayou? That uniquely Southern/French combination. New Orleans is my favorite, but hey, Baton Rouge is close enough

That is what I expected, but what I got was the author, Jennifer, a terrified whiny young woman who wants it all (including God) for herself but does not know how to get it. Her beloved scattered family, people dying of AIDS in St. Anthony's where she volunteers, her rabbi, and her therapist all influence her. She writes, "God alone knows what the folks at St. Anthony's would think of me if they knew that not only do I cry buckets at the drop of a hat, but also that I actually pay money to someone to listen to me when I cry."

Early reviewers aptly use words like witty, honest, probing to describe Bagels & Grits, which lives up to its reputation. The book opens with Jennifer driving a minivan, listening to HIV-positive patient, Lorraine, with skin "like polished mahogany" describe, again, how she shot her husband "right in the head" when she found him in bed with her auntie. "My favorite damn auntie." The book pads quietly on from there, word by word, day by day, slowly changing into a moving memoir of spiritual growth

Jennifer questions much of what she sees. Of the Christian God she encounters repeatedly in St. Anthony's she writes, "This is the God Who forgives you every last nasty thing you've ever done, and all you have to do [is] ask. So you've killed a few folks? No problem! Just call on Him at the very end and presto!you get into heaven. Whored around? Don't sweat it! Cheated on your income taxes? Come on down!"

"At  St. Anthony's, not only did He exist, but also, at times, He came down to earth to say howdy or give a thumbs-up. He was so present, so everyday, that you almost expected to bump into Him at the grocery store."

I love this book. It brought me to tears, which books rarely do. Indeed, I loved the book so much I could not bear to put it down. So I didn't. I turned right back to page one and read it over again. Knowing what would happen, I focused on the wealth of detail Jennifer supplies, like this description of Geraldine, one of the AIDS patients: "she was pretty the way a bird is pretty, with small jutting bones under smooth skin and quick, darting movements." 

Read it if you can. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, or (like me) something else, this odd, detailed, delightful spiritual journey is bound to touch you.


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