Ups and Downs

In a frank conversational tone, Nika Hazelton, known to most readers for her cookbooks, offers a well-written series of impressions and anecdotes from her youth. Her personal account is interspersed with advice on such diverse topics as literature, picnic etiquette, and proper chili preparation (recipe included).

Born to a liberal German father stationed as a diplomat in Italy and to an Italian mother, Hazelton was part of two different cultures but never wholly at home in either. Her detachment, furthered by her peripatetic childhood, combined with her familiarity with several languages make her a balanced and skilled observer of people and cultures.

Having spent most of her adult life in the United States and having lived among both the upper and working class, Hazelton is uniquely qualified to point out the startling changes in life-style experienced in the United States and Europe since the 1920’s. Hazelton is an astute observer, and her detailed descriptions vividly portray the attitudes and customs that seem so far in the past.

Not surprisingly, Hazelton often uses descriptions of meals and their preparation to illustrate her points. Class differences in England became most meaningful to her when she noticed the appalling gap in nutritional value and variety between the upper and lower classes. Having grown up in a time when everyone stopped work at midday and gathered with their family for a hot meal prepared from freshly purchased ingredients, the author has survived to witness the age of nonperishable frozen dinners for one.

The book is strongest in its affectionate accounts of domestic life in the various places where Hazelton has lived--Rome; Milan; Berlin; Horsell, England; Geneva; New York. The informal organization of the narrative, however, leads to some irritating repetitions. Although Hazelton does not purport to have written a linear autobiography, it is frustrating to emerge from the book without knowing the simplest facts of her life. Nevertheless, this is light and enjoyable reading.