Select one of the keywords
Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story    by Dylan Schaffer order for
Life, Death & Bialys
by Dylan Schaffer
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lori Waddington

It is November, and Alan 'Flip' Schaffer is dying of cancer. His doctors don't expect him to live much longer. So when he calls his estranged son Dylan and asks, 'What are you doing in June? ... How about you and me take a bread-making class?', Dylan reluctantly agrees, figuring that his father won't last until January. Proving that 'doctors are sometimes wrong,' Flip is still alive when June rolls around, so father and son prepare to spend seven days together learning to bake bread at the French Culinary Institute in New York. They also spend seven nights getting to know one another, as Dylan's father abandoned him, his three siblings, and his mentally unstable mother when Dylan was just a boy.

In between bites of his must-have morning bialy (basically a bagel without a hole) Flip does his best to answer Dylan's many questions. Dylan has never forgiven his father for leaving him and his siblings in the care of a woman who could barely take care of herself, let alone four children. In between breakfast, five hours spent learning to make bread along with ten other assorted characters, and seven sleepless nights spent at a shabby hotel in the Bowery, Dylan tries to make his father understand what it was like being raised by a woman who warned her son weekly not to 'be surprised to find her dead on the floor of her bathroom'.

Flip does his best to make Dylan accept that he left to save himself, and that Dylan's mother had no respect for Flip's work as a writer and a professor. Flip tells Dylan 'she was constantly tearing me down.' He tries to make Dylan grasp the fact that he 'couldn't stay in New York. I think I would have killed myself. I truly thought you were better off with her than with me. I had no choice.' Dylan eventually decides that even though his father does not deserve his forgiveness, that forgiveness 'will be my gift to my father.'

Life, Death & Bialys is a heartfelt and often hilarious book. Yes, it is possible for a book with Death in the title to be funny. Dylan Schaffer's descriptions of the way his father eats ('He grunts, he moans') and dresses ('My father's idea of a perfect outfit is anything that keeps his pallid legs, hairy chest, and huge belly covered for less than ten dollars') made me laugh out loud. I also enjoyed the description of the air conditioning unit in Dylan and Flip's hotel room, that could have 'been designed for a Wal-Mart store. You could confidently keep your cryogenically preserved cat in our suite.' Read this book; you will not be disappointed.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews