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Lessons in Fusion – Primrose Madayag Knazan

Lessons In Fusion is the first novel from Winnipeg playwright, food writer, and Winnipeg food promoter, Primrose Madayag Knazan. I’ve met Ms. Knazan at a couple of food events over the years, including sharing a table with her at one of the Raw:Almond brunches.

Lessons in Fusion Front cover.
The front cover of Lessons in Fusion, by Winnipeg author, Primrose Madayag Knazan.

Lessons in Fusion tells the story of Sarah, a teenaged food blogger, who enters into an online cooking contest during the Covid pandemic. Sarah, pronounced SAH-rah, is of Jewish and Filipino descent, but has been raised exclusively Jewish.

This presents a problem, as the producers of Cyber Chef, the show she’s featured in, really want her to focus on her Filipino background. As Sarah attempts to do this, she comes up against her family history, which her mom Grace, has kept hidden for most of Sarah’s life.

Sarah is on two journeys. One as a chef, and the other to find her own identity. Throughout the story, Sarah finds herself at odds with the judges and producers of Cyber Chef, and increasingly, at odds with her mother. This becomes on ongoing struggle.

Fortunately she has help with this struggle, primarily from her aunt Cher, and Del, her handler on Cyber Chef. Slowly, but surely, Sarah learns more of her own family’s story.

Yet there are parts of this story that can only come from her mother. Grace experienced what it meant to be from a Filipino background in a way that Sarah never has. Will Sarah and her mother be able to open up to each other. Will Grace let Sarah know Grace’s own story?

Sarah finds herself asking the question of whether or not she is Filipino or Jewish? Must she be one or the other? Can she be both?

Lessons in Fusion for Dinner
Enjoying Lessons in Fusion, while enjoying a bowl of ramen.

Thoughts on Lessons in Fusion

I really enjoyed Lessons in Fusions. It is a very good story of family, identity, and coming to grips to what each of those things mean.

Told as a tale set during the time of Covid-19, Lessons in Fusion, tells stories of isolation. Some created by the pandemic, but some about the ways we isolate ourselves. Where we cut ourselves off from the people we love and need.

The bits of the story that show what goes on during Cyber Chef, serve as a good reminder that reality shows aren’t as real as they seem. The attempts to create drama, should remind us as viewers, that there is not as much reality to reality television as the producers would like us to believe.

On the other hand, the family drama in the story is presented very well. The little injurious actions. The ill-timed words. The stories parents don’t tell their children, and stories children don’t tell their parents.

All of these little cuts create long-lasting wounds within families. Knazan has captured them very well in Lessons in Fusion. Beyond the cooking, beyond the competition these family dynamics ring the truest of anything in the book.

I like the way the novel moves back and forwards in time. Like a complex recipe we see layers being added. Each of these layers brings new understanding to the life of Sarah, and her mother.

The main story here involves Sarah and her mother Grace. However, around that story, many other characters in Lessons in Fusion show the complexities of narratives surrounding family, race, gender, and sexuality.

In doing so, they help strengthen the main story. They also help readers to understand a  little better, the world in which they live.

Other Notes

Each chapter of the book begins with a recipe. I have not tried to cook any of them as yet. I did however, read them through, and they come across as well-written with the instructions broken down into easily digestible chunks that are easy to follow.

Lessons in Fusion is classified as a Young Adult novel. I do have to admit that as an old fogey, dealing with text speak took a couple of chapters to get used to. However, the themes of identity, love, and family are universals, that make this novel a good read for any age.

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By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.