June 18, 2024

Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones

By Priyanka Mattoo
Review by
The Secret Garden meets Nora Ephron in Priyanka Mattoo’s riotously funny memoir in essays, Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones.
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As a child in Kashmir, India, Priyanka Mattoo cherished time spent at her maternal grandparents’ family compound, its several buildings full of her “outspoken and uproarious” relatives. “Imagine an empty cup under a gushing faucet,” she writes. “It fills up, it tips over, the faucet keeps gushing, and the cup thinks, I really don’t need any more water, but, okay, this feels nice. That’s the adoration I felt from my family.”

That luxurious, gushing feeling is exactly what readers of Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones will experience while reading this memoir in essays. Stylistically, it’s The Secret Garden meets Nora Ephron: Mattoo serves up memories with both fairy tale-like charm and thoroughly modern, riotously funny observations.

The book’s title comes from a Kashmiri phrase used to describe “things so rare and precious that the listener should question their very existence.” That sentiment has defined Mattoo’s life since political upheaval prevented her family from returning to their beloved homeland. Luckily, Mattoo’s father was an internationally renowned pediatric nephrologist, and his career took them around the world to London, Saudi Arabia and, finally, America. This expat life blessed Mattoo with intriguing experiences, but also left her longing for Kashmir with “a deep well of sadness that follows me around.”

But Mattoo keeps her sense of humor, as when describing the day she taught her 9-year-old son how to microwave a hot dog (“I briefly drifted into a vision of reading magazines while my child makes dinner.”). The essays can be read separately, but are roughly chronological, explaining how she veered away from her “life plan” and married an American Jew instead of “a nice Kashmiri boy,” didn’t become a doctor and instead followed her creative spirit, forging a life as a writer, filmmaker and talent agent.

In “How to Be Alone,” she writes of her middle school years, enduring painful prejudices that turned her into a loner, until she eventually realized, “I could make anyone my friend, and I would make anyone my friend.” She does just that with Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones—a book of enormous heart, humor and insight that will leave readers wanting more of Priyanka Mattoo’s company.

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