authors in Menlo Park

Post image for Author Donia Bijan turns to fiction in a novel set in her native Iran

As Donia Bijan explains it, she carried around “the story in my head” for years before starting to write her first novel, The Last Days of Café Leila, which will be launched at Kepler’s on April 20.

“The main characters came to me almost fully formed,” she says. “They’re lots of people I knew distilled into three characters — grandfather, daughter, and granddaughter.”

Menlo Park resident Donia, who spent a decade behind the stove as chef/owner of L’Amie Donia before publishing a memoir, Maman’s Homesick Piein 2011, returned to Iran for the first time in 2010, 32 years after her family was forced to flee during the Islamic Revolution. She traveled there with her sisters, hoping to reclaim her father’s hospital where they had also lived, although she realized that was unlikely.

“I often wondered what would have happened if he had stayed in Iran and run the hospital through the years of war and political upheaval,” she says. “I can’t write knowingly about medicine, but what if I imagined Café Leila as the only sanctuary from the chaos?”

She approached the writing of the book as a job, starting when her son left for school and artist husband Mitchel Johnson went to his studio. “I pushed myself through some very difficult doors,” she recalls. “By that I mean it was tough stuff to write about. I’m a polite person. You can’t be polite, you have to be ruthless when you write.

“Writing about loss and death and a brutal regime and what it does to your people, that’s tough. But it was like the three main characters were keeping me company. I felt them in the room with me. We cried together and laughed together.”

The novel tells the story of Noor, who returns to Iran along with her very American teenage daughter, Lily. Together they seek refuge at her father’s neighborhood café. Noor, a foreigner in her childhood country, seeks to better understand herself and her homeland through revelations about her family, especially her mother, a young opera singer swept up in the post-revolution regime.

Asked if she’s put her chef days behind her, Donia says, mainly so, although it was in the kitchen she’d take refuge when she needed a break from writing. And she still teaches occasional classes at Draegers.

After going on the road to promote the novel, she plans on writing another novel, with entirely different characters.

The book launch at Kepler’s takes place on Thursday, April 20, at 7:30 pm.

Photo by Irene Searles

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Psychologists Lori and Tom Plante co-author book to help college students graduate with honor

Thumbnail image for Psychologists Lori and Tom Plante co-author book to help college students graduate with honor

Menlo Park residents Lori and Tom Plante have enjoyed separate careers in the field of psychology, she as a clinician with a practice downtown and he as a member of the faculty at the Santa Clara University. Now they’ve come together to co-author a book that may prove helpful to parents of college-age or college-bound kids as well as college […]

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In new book, Menlo Park resident Alexander Kugushev ponders why American education lags

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Editor’s note: Menlo Park resident, author and publisher Alexander Kugushev has written a new book We’re 34th in Education – It’s Our Culture. Here he offers his opinion about what is right and wrong about our educational system. The United States ranks 34th in the world in education (per the Program of International Student Assessment — 2014/2016). […]

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Author Jeanne DuPrau reflects on best-selling Ember series

Thumbnail image for Author Jeanne DuPrau reflects on best-selling Ember series

While author Jeanne DuPrau views herself as “always a writer,” she didn’t write fiction until she was in her 40s and wrote the best-selling The City of Ember. “I was a big reader as a child — C.S. Lewis, The Borrowers, Mary Poppins, that kind of thing,” she said sitting in the garden of the Menlo […]

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Author Kirby Wilkins turns to non-fiction in book Life with Jake

Thumbnail image for Author Kirby Wilkins turns to non-fiction in book Life with Jake

For much of his life, author Kirby Wilkins has lived on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park in the home his mother first moved into in 1947. He’s seen happiness there as well as what he describes as “trauma,” particularly after the birth of his son Jake in 1992 when he was 55 years old. At […]

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Deany Brady pens second memoir, Higher than Yonder Mountain

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To kids and parents at Laurel Elementary School where she volunteers, Deany Brady is Grandma Brady. When she stops in once a week at Whole Foods Market, where she worked for 20 years, that’s what her former colleagues call her as well. But on Saturday, April 16 at 2:00 pm, she’ll be called “author Brady” during an appearance at […]

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Frances Reneau draws on her experience as ranger for MPOSD in her first book, Rangerchick

Thumbnail image for Frances Reneau draws on her experience as ranger for MPOSD in her first book, Rangerchick

When Menlo Park resident Frances Reneau graduated from Stanford with a degree in Germanic Linguistics, she viewed herself as a studious and academic person. That translated into some indoor pursuit, which for her was initially classroom teaching and then teaching ESL. Now after 15 years as a Ranger for the MidPeninsula Open Space District, she looks […]

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Novelist Lalita Tademy pens the story of a once-enslaved man and his granddaughter set in Oklahoma

Thumbnail image for Novelist Lalita Tademy pens the story of a once-enslaved man and his granddaughter set in Oklahoma

Best-selling author Lalita Tademy is the first to admit that she’s not one of those novelists who can churn out a book once a year — or even every other year. The former high tech executive, first profiled on InMenlo in 2010, hit the best seller list first with Cane River in 2001 and then Red River in […]

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