The French word “terroir” refers to the whole environment in which something is grown, and Natasha Sajé’s essay collection Terroir: Love, Out of Place applies this term to her life, examining the context in which her identity was forged.
Sajé’s preface establishes her feeling that she, born in Germany and raised in the US, is not “from” anywhere. The book’s eight essays explore the locations, people, and experiences that are her true “terroir.” They include pieces on hotel work in Switzerland, buying a house in Baltimore, and feeling out of place in Mormon Utah. They describe her two marriages, one interracial and the other to a woman, and analyze emotions including guilt and nostalgia.
Lively details of, and anecdotes from, Sajé’s travel, jobs, and relationships undergird her argument for the centrality of environments in shaping personal identities. These details also make for captivating reading. Essays on her marriages are nuanced in their examinations of race and sexuality, both on personal and cultural levels. As both a travel text and a work of food writing, the book captures landscapes from Venice to Salt Lake City, and meals from potlucks to those in high-end restaurants.
As the book proceeds, its essays become more varied and complex. After straightforward stories about waitressing and a close childhood relationship with an older woman, Sajé begins to braid her experiences and ideas together, exploring more abstract concepts and emotions. A standout piece, “The Performance of Taste,” makes an argument about ethics by moving from food snobbery to Sajé’s outspokenness to American anti-intellectualism to teaching literature. Throughout, Sajé’s voice is warm, confident, and honest.
Natasha Sajé’s ranging essay collection explores the nature of the self while shedding light on race, sexuality, nationality, and the meaning of home.
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