“From Scratch” is a beautifully written memoir showing the elements of grief when dealing with the loss of a spouse while nurturing the delicate relationships with that spouse’s homeland, culture, and family.
Tembi is studying abroad in Italy when she meets Sicilian native Saro after he tries to help her get her stolen bike back. There’s instant chemistry between them. Tembi, who returns to the U.S. to finish her studies, keeps a long-distance relationship with Saro, who’s in his 30s and ready to become a chef. They convene in New York City later where they marry as Tembi builds up her acting career on Broadway. Her career then takes her away from the stage to the silver screen in Hollywood. Saro follows and begins his culinary career in Los Angeles. They’re living an ideal life until they want children. Biologically, they are having trouble conceiving, so they soon adopt Zoela. During the adoption decision, they learn Saro has liver cancer. Though he’s in and out of remission for years, he succumbs to the disease when Zoela is 7 years old. The overwhelming loss hits Tembi as she has to deal with matters such as distributing Saro’s ashes – some interred in LA and the rest she takes to Sicily. Saro’s parents never approved of their son marrying an American black woman, so in Siciliy Tembi is also still in relationship-building mode with her in-laws with her young daughter in tow. Tembi and Zoela feel a stronger sense of family in Sicily as they bond with Saro’s aging mother and realistically make plans in time of her impending death.
The way this memoir is written is extraordinary with detail, including the details of Tembi handling her husband’s cancer treatment, their adoption process, her husband’s death, and her obsession to make sure she grieves healthily with her daughter. She talks about the moments when she misses her husband the most like picking fava beans in their garden in the Silver Lake neighborhood in LA, creating meals with Saro’s favorite utensils and pots. The memoir also shines a spotlight on how stressful a loved one’s death can be with all the checklists and how one person may bear most of the burden of crossing everything off. On audiobook, Tembi reads her story perfectly.