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'Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses' by Isabel Allende

Women In Love - With Themselves

Sunday, May 24, 1998

By Elizabeth Bennett

 
 

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

By Isabel Allende

HarberCollins
$26.00

   
 

When Isabel Allende's 28-year-old daughter died in 1992 from a rare enzyme disease called porphrya, the acclaimed Chilean novelist lost interest in everything, including her husband. She spent three years in despair, followed by publication of "Paula," a 1995 book that chronicled the year her daughter lay in a coma.

Now Allende, whose novels include "The House of the Spirits," "Eva Luna" and "Love and Shadows," has written a dramatically different kind of book about - of all things - sex and food.

" ... when my dreams about food began, I knew I was reaching the end of a long tunnel of mourning ... with a tremendous desire to eat and cuddle again," Allende explains in this long toung-in-cheek book. "And so, little by little, pound after pound and kiss after kiss, this project was born."

"Aphrodite" provides a dazzling variety of aprhodisiacs and recipes to - among other things - shore up a relationship gone stale.

"It's not easy to change mates," Allende writes. "You have to interview new strategies for meeting at uncommon hours, buy sexy lingerie to veil your cellulite, be responsible for fueling his erotic fantasies, and other such foolishness. It's a bore, and in most cases not worth the time and effort."

Allende - who wed her current husband in 1988 after a first marriage of 25 years ended in divorce - is passionate about food and sex, and she's an entertaining writer with wit and charm.

Describing herself as "a grand-mother who still has not renounced the sins of lust and fantasy," she has written a volume that's part memoir, part erotica research and part cookbook.

"I cannot separate eroticism from food and see no reason to do so," she says. "Among the few things men and women have in common are sex and food."

"Aphrodite" includes poems, stories from ancient medieval literature, tidbits on the sensual art of food and its effect on amorous performance, tips on reviving flagging virility and beautiful, evocative writing about ordinary, everyday subjects. The senses of taste and smell, for instance, "are spirits with their own lives, ghosts that appear without being invoked to fling open a window of memory and lead us through time to a forgotten event."

The book also included lists of aphrodisiac fruits, herbs and recipes - many form Allende's own mother! - with such provocative names as "Novice's Nipples," "Harem turkey" and "Soup for Orgies."

Her whimsy continues in a chapter called "Love Philters," where she discusses the famous rhinoceros-horn power so prized in Asia as in infallible aphrodisiac. This powder is reputed to be so potent, she playfully notes, that it "fires the lust of even octogenarians" and can be used by women "to lead their lover to Allah's Paradise."

Allende, who was born in Peru and now lives in California, is a woman with strong appetites and equally strong opinions, and she is expresses them with panache:

On nouvelle cuisine: "It gives the deplorable impression that there was not enough food to go around."

On thin women: Their clothes "always drape gracefully over their bones. (I hate them.)"

On men who cook: "There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill." (She fell in love with her current husband, an American lawyer, while watching him prepare dinner for her.)

Appetite and sex "are the great motivators of history,: says Allende, but she concludes her erotic meanderings by observing that love is still the most important element of a good relationship.

"I hope I am never without it," the 55-year-old author writes. "And that when I can no longer make love - not because of any indifference of my own, but perhaps from the difficulty of finding someone willing to frolic with a great-grandmother - I hope at least to continue enjoying food and memories.

Elizabeth Bennett, former book editor of the Houston Post, is a free-lance writer in Houston.

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