"How long can I live?" my six-year-old daughter asked me when I returned home from my father's funeral in India. My father had lived until eighty-five—a vigorous, preternaturally healthy octogenarian at eighty-two—until he had spiraled inexplicably into a ferocious form of dementia that took his life in three years. [...]
But that, of course, was not her question. "How long can I live?" is a more capricious puzzle; it asks us to solve a very different sort of conundrum—not the average human life expectancy, but its outer limits. Is there a limit to human longevity? When Jeanne Louis Calment, a woman living in Arles, France, died on 4th August 1997 at 122 years, she achieved the longest human lifespan documented on record (reassuringly, she claimed that she was not particularly athletic, and ate nearly a kilogram of chocolate every week). Will someone from my daughter's cohort live longer than Calment?
No one had any idea what would emerge two and a half years later, and that their idea would become The Adventures of Fat Rice, one of 2016’s biggest cookbook releases, featuring an unfamiliar cuisine from a place hardly anyone could find on a map, via a neighborhood restaurant in Chicago that doesn’t even have a sign. So how did they go from asking those questions to getting an enviable book deal with one of the most prestigious cookbook publishers in the country, traveling internationally to research and photograph their book and, finally, the book's launch and success?
Let’s just say it was a long, complicated process.
Chabon said that if he approached the story as memoir, he never could have given that life the necessary narrative cohesion. “Besides, a memoir would’ve been so boring; there’s nothing to write,” he said. “That’s the problem with life.” So he wrapped what was true in a “a pack of lies.”
While Bair spends much time — too much of it — trying to clear the clutter of Capone myth, she is at her strongest when she gets out of the biographical weeds and gives us a feel of the era. Her most articulate associations of Capone and his times come in the final chapter, and one wishes they’d come earlier, to give better definition to the culture that Capone and the Outfit dominated for a time.