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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "The Last Days of Café Leila" by Donia Bijan

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"The Last Days of Café Leila" by Donia Bijan

  1. Family Dynamics and Relationships:

    • How do the dynamics within the Nouraie family contribute to the narrative? Discuss the relationships between Noor, Zod, and their children, as well as the extended family members. How do these relationships evolve throughout the story?
  2. Identity and Belonging:

    • Explore the theme of identity as it relates to Noor and her family. How do they navigate their Iranian heritage while living in exile in Paris and later returning to Tehran? How does Noor's sense of identity shift over time?
  3. Culture and Tradition:

    • Discuss the role of Iranian culture and tradition in the novel, particularly in relation to food, family gatherings, and rituals. How does Bijan use these cultural elements to enrich the story and develop the characters?
  4. The Café Leila:

    • Analyze the significance of Café Leila as a setting in the novel. How does the café serve as a symbol of family history, community, and resilience? How does the café's decline mirror the broader changes occurring in Iran?
  5. The Power of Memory:

    • Reflect on the role of memory in the novel, particularly Noor's memories of her childhood in Tehran and her experiences in Paris. How do these memories shape Noor's identity and influence her decisions?
  6. The Immigrant Experience:

    • Explore the challenges faced by Noor and her family as immigrants living in Paris. How do they navigate issues of cultural assimilation, discrimination, and the longing for home? How do these experiences compare to their return to Tehran?
  7. Mother-Daughter Relationships:

    • Discuss the relationship between Noor and Lily, as well as Noor's relationship with her own mother. How do these relationships reflect generational differences, cultural expectations, and the complexities of motherhood?
  8. Love and Loss:

    • Reflect on the themes of love and loss in the novel, particularly in relation to Noor's relationships with her family members, friends, and romantic interests. How do these experiences shape Noor's understanding of herself and her place in the world?
  9. The Political Climate in Iran:

    • Consider the political backdrop of Iran during the time period depicted in the novel. How does Bijan portray the political climate and its impact on the lives of ordinary Iranians, both inside and outside the country?
  10. Redemption and Forgiveness:

    • Discuss the themes of redemption and forgiveness as they relate to Noor's journey. How does Noor come to terms with her past mistakes and find a sense of peace and closure?
  11. Writing Style and Narrative Structure:

    • Reflect on Bijan's writing style and narrative structure. How does she use language, imagery, and symbolism to evoke the atmosphere of Tehran and Paris? How does the alternating timeline enhance the storytelling?
  12. Culinary Delights:

    • Food plays a significant role in the novel. Discuss the importance of food and cooking in Noor's life and how it serves as a means of connection, comfort, and expression of love for her family and friends.

Donia Bijan is an Iranian-American author, chef, and former restaurateur known for her culinary expertise and literary contributions. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and spent her early years immersed in the rich culinary and cultural traditions of her homeland.

Bijan's family fled Iran in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in 1978, seeking refuge in the United States. They eventually settled in California, where Bijan pursued her passion for cooking and writing.

Bijan's culinary journey began when she enrolled in the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, France. She honed her skills in French cuisine and pastry-making, eventually becoming a highly accomplished chef.

In addition to her culinary pursuits, Bijan is also a talented writer. She earned a degree in French literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and later pursued a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Bijan's literary debut came with the publication of her acclaimed novel, "Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen," in 2011. The memoir-style cookbook intertwines Bijan's personal stories with recipes inspired by her Iranian heritage, offering readers a glimpse into her family's culinary traditions and the transformative power of food.

In 2017, Bijan published her first novel, "The Last Days of Café Leila," which tells the story of a woman returning to her native Iran to revive her family's once-thriving café. The novel explores themes of family, identity, love, and the complex relationship between tradition and modernity.

Throughout her career, Bijan has received critical acclaim for her writing and culinary expertise. She has been featured in various publications and media outlets, including The New York Times, Food & Wine, and NPR.

In addition to her writing, Bijan has also worked as a chef and restaurateur. She co-owned and operated the acclaimed L'Amie Donia restaurant in Palo Alto, California, where she showcased her culinary talents and passion for creating memorable dining experiences.

Today, Donia Bijan continues to write and share her love of food through her writing and culinary endeavors, inspiring readers and food enthusiasts alike with her unique blend of storytelling and gastronomy.


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