'Candies from Heaven'

Honest cooking and sincere storytelling rely on similar ingredients: tradition, love, humor and spice, among others. These components are found throughout “Candies from Heaven,” the newly translated memoir of leading Israeli culinary journalist and TV personality Gil Hovav.

A descendant of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew language, Hovav grew up among an eccentric family steeped in Old World customs, yet blessed with a healthy appetite for novelties. The series of 22 short stories in “Candies from Heaven,” interspersed with cherished recipes, offers a delectable glimpse into the Hovav family dynamic as each member adapted to the realities of life in the early days of the Jewish state.

Readers will at once observe the influence of famed Israeli author Amos Oz on Hovav’s prose. One story even borrows Oz’s iconic title “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Both writers describe similarly cramped apartments and daily life with a tinge of cynicism, but Hovav’s redeeming sense of humor casts his experiences in a brighter light.

During a summer gathering at his Aunt Chava’s home, for example, Hovav describes a spontaneous family reunion. As the house becomes congested with people, “Gili” (Hovav’s nickname) worries that had the daunting task of providing accommodations fallen to his mother, Drora, she would have divorced her husband and the “whole world too.” Hovav’s “unflappable Aunt Chava,” however, rallies to the challenge and prepares a variety of creative sleeping arrangements.

Much as the scent of good food tempts taste buds, Hovav is adept at teasing details that simultaneously reveal character as well as unexpected backstories. In one telling scene, Gili and his older brother, Bonnie, set out to catch the 961 Egged bus to Tiberias for a summer vacation stay with aunt Chava. Prior to their departure, the boys must first endure a long list of fretful warnings from their mother.

When the boys are finally released from their mother’s supervision, Bonnie tells Gili, “Come quickly already, before she catches up to us with umbrellas.” The scene will draw an initial laugh from readers who easily conjure an image of a stereotypical Jewish mother preparing her sons for an improbable mid-summer rainstorm in the desert.

Undisclosed to the reader at this juncture, however, is an event from the previous summer. Bonnie took Gili to the movies and made him sit in a particular seat on the ground floor so that he could ascend the balcony and pee on his younger brother. Hence, Drora’s parting warning when she catches up to the boys and insists they take umbrellas, “in case you go to a movie.”

If there is anything lacking in this autobiographical work, it is a building sense of purpose in the life of the narrator. Beyond the fun and quirky family anecdotes, Hovav’s pivotal realization that he is passionate about pursuing a career in the culinary arts seems missing. Yet, readers will be charmed by Hovav’s voice and unique resilience.

Hovav’s incredible ability to quietly observe his family’s traditions and the volatile moods of the people in his life, inspire nostalgic and savory recipes tailored to evoke love and happiness while bookmarking the tides of time. JN

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