Book review of Susan Uehara's Cooking for Her Eyes by Marc Louis-Boyard

Susan Uehara Rakstang, Cooking for Her Eyes – BOOK REVIEW #13

Susan Uehara Rakstang’s Cooking for Her Eyes was released in October 2020, seven years after Julian Barnes’ critically-acclaimed Levels of Life, a title of a similar nature.

In Cooking for Her Eyes, Susan Uehara Rakstang contemplates the different emotional levels of her own past. The book succeeds where most authors and thinkers fail: context matters, and context is a central notion in the book.

To avoid spoilers, we’ll base our review on the first half of the book. Don’t get us wrong: the other half is where the magic happens too.

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Susan Uehara Rakstang, Cooking for her Eyes: our review.

Family, told and reconstructed

Family and its multiple dimensions are the definitive background of Cooking for Her Eyes. Sometimes a refuge, sometimes a place of judgement, sometimes a place of solutions, sometimes a place of worry: Susan Uehara Rakstang excelled in giving rythm to the book while transcribing honest and deep impressions of this core of hers.

Her recollections give the reader a valuable reminder: family is precious,  personal differences and intergenerational mishaps included. 

One of the many powers of this book is that Susan’s family realities will be relatable to a large number of readers while staying genuinely unique, and uncompromising.

Christmas in our house was all about Dennis and me when we were children. Train sets and footballs for him, hula-hoops and dresses for me, and all my aunties in Hawai`i sent us gifts, creating a mountain of presents under and around our Christmas tree. New Year’s, however, was all about the adults.

My family’s Japanese heritage called for a New Year’s Eve party as well as an open house the following day. Throughout the year, but especially during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, music filled the house.

– Excerpt from Cooking for Her Eyes

The highlight of the bold spirit

Unlike Tony Wilson in the movie 24 Hour Party PeopleSusan in not a minor character in her own story. Would that mean that the narration is self-centered? Certainly not. Cooking for Her Eyes reaffirms a logical thought full of wisdom: an extraordinary life is made of extraordinary situations and extraordinary people, for better or for worse.

That being said, Susan’s bold spirit is relevantly illustrated, with a strict sense of measure in the choice of words, and with statements oscillating between self-affirmation and humility.

What’s remembered from the book is the author’s resilience and determination against adversity. Far from what could be -maybe awkwardly- considered cheap feminism, Susan’s inspiring force of nature is told and examined, regardless of gender questions after all, eventhough these questions have a sporadic importance.

“You stood up to all those men! Keep doing that. Not one of them took your side, and you voted against them anyway. I’m so proud of you,” she said.

I smiled.

Well, well—so my my mother is a feminist!

– Excerpt from Cooking for Her Eyes

A romanticized past?

Writing her memories, Susan Uehara Rakstang must have faced the challenge of her own accuracy. Does accuracy really matter there? We are not convinced about that. No matter the importance one can attach to precision and exactness, the many dialogs in presence speak the truth of experience, the truth of life.

Cooking for Her Eyes could be illustrated with one of our favorite quotes from Amy Pohler’s Yes Please: “Forget the facts, remember the feelings”. Facts are obviously not forgotten in this book, but feelings and emotions are forming the lasting memory after all, for the reader’s pleasure and for the better.

After dinner, I played the piano for her–Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8, C minor, second movement, Adagio cantabile. It is a reflective movement, and probably wasn’t the best piece to play at that time in my mother’s life, but I think I may have a disability of sorts—musical long-term memory loss. I could only play what I was working on at the time.

With all my performance anxiety issues, playing for my mother brought me comfort. It seemed so natural, and I heard my music flow smoothly. When I finished, I felt calm.

– Excerpt from Cooking for Her Eyes

Cooking for Her Eyes is a generous invitation, a moving walk through time revealing Susan’s intelligence in terms of character development and attention to the right details. A passionate reading experience is the result: between essential vicissitudes and raw power of the senses, this book is proof of life, undisputably.

Susan Uehara Rakstang, Cooking for Her Eyes

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Portrait of Susan Uehara Rakstang by Karl Schmid Photography
Karl Schmid Photography

About Susan Uehara Rakstang

“I earned my undergraduate degree in Art Education with a minor in Ceramics at Northern Illinois University and in the mid-1970s, began my studies for my Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois, Chicago. After practicing architecture for nearly twenty years, I sold my firm and spent a few years revisiting my love of making pottery and playing the piano. I then accepted a position as University Architect/Associate VP of Facilities at a university in Chicago’s southern suburbs, and after ten great years there, I retired. Over subsequent years, I fell in love with writing–and now I’m the author of COOKING FOR HER EYES!”

Additional note :

During our exploration of the book, we searched through the Mindbuck Media catalog and enjoyed Claire Rudy Foster’s Shine of the Ever.
We strongly encourage you to discover the book by clicking on its cover.

Written by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture.

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