Susan Rakstang recalls her idyllic life as a child of Japanese American parents and her mother’s cooking lessons of delicious tastes, exquisite fragrances, and the visual art of preparing food, through her fast-paced, frenzied battle with time juggling her responsibilities as a wife, mother of two children, and working outside the home as an architect–a pioneering path not often pursued by women in the mid-1970s. When she retires, her life suddenly takes a dark turn when her mother has a stroke, and her friend Margaret, a pastry chef, receives a terrifying diagnosis of stage-four cancer of her tongue. With both women’s lives hanging perilously in the balance, she spends her days and evenings alternately tending to each of them. Learning Margaret’s cancer treatment will cause horrific pain and temporary loss of taste, Susan develops a pureed food preparation technique for her friend’s meals, focusing on the natural, visual beauty of food–and cooks for Margaret’s eyes.
Blending the detail and precision of an architect, with the color, tempo, and texture of her classical music roots, Susan beckons her readers to embrace their senses as she takes them on her journey of music, food, love, and death. Organizing her story as Beethoven structured his Sonata No. 8, C minor, Opus 13 (Pathetique), she conveys anxiety, joy, passion, sorrow, and resolution–as the maestro expressed in his sonata.
Idea: "I structured this memoir as Beethoven structured his Piano Sonata No. 8," Rakstang explains in the endnotes to her exquisite memoir of love, family, friendship, food, music and becoming a woman whose every thought and action creates art out of life itself. This is a luminous memoir that nurtures the soul even as it pleases the intellect by its aesthetic grace, brilliance and wit.
Prose/Style: The music of Rakstang's prose is like the music that inspires her - simple and understated at times, then swelling into an unexpected lyrical beauty that overwhelms the reader with delight. Among the many hats this author wears - architect, chef, musician, daughter, mother, wife, mentor, friend - must also be numbered 'poet."
Originality: So many shimmering threads are gently woven into this magical narrative, yet nothing seems forced or out of place. The author writes as graciously as she has lived; it is a pleasure to be welcomed into the tenderness of her worldview.
Character Development/Execution: It is Rakstang's gift to be able create the people she loves on the page as vividly as they appear to her in her own memories. The book is beautifully and thoughtfully constructed, with all the patient, painstaking attention to detail the author employs in creating an origami crane, an architectural drawing, a meal that is a feast for both the eyes and the palate, or a life that is rich in family, friendship, and personal fulfillment.
Date Submitted: January 08, 2021
“Authors like to talk vaguely of structuring their books ‘like music,’ but they should all look to Susan Uehara Rakstang for how to do it right! Basing Cooking for Her Eyes on her own harmonic analysis of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata, she subtly but unmistakably weaves her own themes and key changes into a memoir that is deeply personal and filled with life’s tiny details. A sprawling Part I filled with exposition and development, a dreamy, meditative Part II, and as Part III a series of vignettes touching lightly on all of the essential elements that came before. It’s a wonderful, subtly crafted accomplishment of a memoir. It is about the quiet, heartbreaking beauty of the mundane details. The everyday and ordinary made extraordinary and precious.”
—Dr. David Arbury, PhD, composer and professor of music theory, Los Angeles City College
“Cooking for Her Eyes is a generous invitation, a moving walk through time revealing Susan’s intelligence in terms of character development and attention to the right details. A passionate reading experience is the result: between essential vicissitudes and raw power of the senses, this book is proof of life, undisputably.”
—Marc Louis-Boyard, founder and editor of Slow Culture Magazine
“This book has so many wonderful different layers to draw in the reader. A beautiful memoir of life, death, and relationships, Susan’s is an empowering story of finding one’s place in the world and shows her personal Japanese American experience—a powerful thing for the community, and a valuable glimpse into that community for all audiences. Like all good books, it was bittersweet to arrive at its ending!”
—Michael Takada, CEO of the Japanese American Service Committee
Indie Spotlight: December 2020
By PW Staff |
Dec 18, 2020
We're closing out this difficult year with indie books that embody the principles of kindness, beauty, and gratitude.
Cooking for Her Eyes—Transcription of a Sonata: A Story of Music, Food, Love, and Death
Susan Uehara Rakstang
About the book: Rakstang’s memoir explores the confluence of creative passions and how a friend’s illness led her to create an innovative cooking method.
Author statement: “My book speaks to my Japanese mother’s influence on me all my life with regard to cooking, compassion, and love.”
AN EVENING WITH AUTHORS:Susan Uehara Rakstang & Kelly Fumiko Weiss
HOSTED BY THE JASC LEGACY CENTER
FREE LIVE STREAM EVENT
Tuesday, Dec. 8, 20207:00 PM - 8:30 PM CST*Registration required
Kombu & Collard Greens: An In Conversation with
Susan Uehara Rakstang & Lisa Pegram
TWO AMERICAN FAMILIES & THE POWER OF
FOOD, MUSIC & ART TO ACCESS MEMORY