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Life, Death and Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story
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Life, Death and Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story

by Dylan Schaffer
 

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When Dylan Schaffer's father, Flip, asked him to take an intensive bread making class at a fancy culinary school in New York, the idea seemed considerably less than half-baked. Dylan hadn't seen much of his father-not since he left Dylan and his siblings in the care of their crazy mother thirty years before. Neither knew the first thing about making bread. And

Overview


When Dylan Schaffer's father, Flip, asked him to take an intensive bread making class at a fancy culinary school in New York, the idea seemed considerably less than half-baked. Dylan hadn't seen much of his father-not since he left Dylan and his siblings in the care of their crazy mother thirty years before. Neither knew the first thing about making bread. And Flip's cancer was expected to kill him long before the class was set to begin. But Flip made it. The pair spent seven days at the French Culinary Institute becoming artisanal bakers and seven tumultuous nights in a shabby Bowery hotel getting to know each other. As moving as it is irreverent, Life, Death & Bialys is about how an imperfect father said goodbye to his son and to his city and how a reluctant son discovered the essence of forgiveness.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“If somebody told me they wrote a book about learning to bake bread with their curmudgeonly, dying father, I would have said, 'Break out the violins and wake me up when it's over.' But Dylan Schaffer has created something genuinely sharp and entertaining here. What a fantastic surprise.” —Beth Lisick, author of Everybody in the Pool
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At first glance, Schaffer's memoir appears to cover familiar territory: the impossible father who abandoned his family, the angry son who can't forgive him, and their final reconciliation in the last moments before illness prevails. But trust us, as you turn the pages of this delightful little book, such cynicism will melt away like the hot buttery crumbs of a freshly baked croissant.

Schaffer's father, Flip, is a handful. Smart, charming, and an accomplished academic, he is also impulsive, evasive, and capable of tantrums that would put a two-year-old to shame. He's a playwright whose work has never seen Broadway, a fiction writer whose books never made it to print, and a father of four who stopped being a family man long before his children were prepared for such abandonment.

Life, Death & Bialys narrows its focus to one week in the lives of Flip and Dylan: a week they spend taking a bread-baking class in New York. But the fascinating ins and outs of baking are just one of the gifts this unforgettable and compassionate book has to share. For as Flip and Dylan learn how to bake croissants, brioches, and baguettes -- but not, alas, Flip's beloved bialys -- one can't help but wonder: Will Flip's revelations about his life's choices satisfy the curiosity of his son?

The story of a son's frustrating struggle to understand a father he barely knows, Life, Death & Bialys is a humorous, sensitive, and honest account of a complicated relationship. (Holiday 2006 Selection)
Library Journal
Schaffer, a former criminal appellate lawyer and author of two legal thrillers (Misdemeanor Man and I Right the Wrongs), has produced a memoir about coming to terms with his difficult upbringing. His father, known as Flip, abandoned his unstable wife and their four children when Schaffer was nine years old. In November 2002, Flip, now dying of lung and bladder cancer, calls Schaffer, asking him to participate in a baking class that is over seven months away. Schaffer agrees, never believing his father will make it to the class. Yet he does, and during a week of intense learning and baking, Schaffer finally gets his father to answer for his behavior. Through pain and rejection at one point Schaffer and his two brothers are cut out of their mother's will the author retains a sense of humor that continues to the very end. Included here is Schaffer's recipe for the bialys he made for his father while staying with him in South Carolina. For fans of well-written memoirs in the style of John Grogan's Marley & Me; recommended for most public libraries. Rosemarie Lewis, Broward Cty. P.L., Ft. Lauderdale, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School
When Schaffer's dying father telephoned him in California to invite him to take a baking class with him in New York, he was less than enthusiastic, but he accepted. This was the man who had abandoned him and his siblings to be raised by his clinically depressed "lunatic" mother. To Schaffer, his father was obnoxious, but to the other students, he was charismatic. Though the author still saw all that his father had not been to him, he began to see a more complete picture of the man as others saw him, and he realized that, in his own way, his father was asking for forgiveness. The book moves quickly; it is clever, funny, and poignant as Schaffer reveals some basic human truths that will resonate with teens. Juxtaposed with the story of the father/son relationship is the story of the baking school, including some specifics of bread making. Compare this raw relationship with the more mellow one in Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie (Doubleday, 1997).
—Ellen BellCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dysfunctional family angst rises precariously in bread-baking classes at a New York cooking school. Facing death, Schaffer's father, Flip, who abandoned his family 30 years earlier, convinces son Dylan to join him for a week's course in what is billed as "artisanal" baking at the French Culinary Institute. And so, bonding, more or less, they bunk together in a seedy neighborhood hotel. Workings of the culinary school are outlined, and classmates are neatly sketched. As others see Dylan's father, a professor of history at Clemson University, as cute, his son sees him as oafish. Flip is sloppy. He lies. Long ago, he left his young children in the care of their mother, psychiatrist Cookie, who was certifiably nuts. "He left me to be raised by a crazy woman," says Dylan, now a lawyer and writer of legal thrillers (I Right the Wrongs, 2005, etc.). Dylan hates Flip, and yet loves him more. Truly, Professor Flip is difficult. He's no Morrie on Tuesdays or any other day, and his son expends much of his creative talent whining in a Woody Allen-esque mode about present anger and past slights. Ultimately, of course, understanding grows like yeast, and there is love in the loaves of bread. The intergenerational sniping ends in reconciliation and understanding as Dylan tends to his father in Flip's last days. With much impassioned, highly personal confession, a son unburdens himself. Some readers may feel the author is sometimes too frank, but, withal, when he's on a roll, the writing is as artisanal as the baking. Fraught lessons learned about the stuff of living and the staff of life, along with kvetching in the kitchen.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596911925
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
09/05/2006
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.63(w) x 8.58(h) x 1.05(d)

Meet the Author

Dylan Schaffer is the author of Misdemeanor man and I Right The Wrongs. He is a criminal defense lawyer who has served as appellate counsel in more than fifty murder cases, including death penalty cases. He has represented defendants in the San Francisco dog mauling case, the Billionaire Boys Club case, the Repressed Memory Murder case and the John Gotti/Gambino family prosecution. He lives in Oakland, California.

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