“Notes on a Banana”: Bipolar Disorder and More

In his masterful new memoir, David Leite weaves together three of my favorite things: food, humor, and debilitating mental illness. Notes on a Banana is beautifully crafted, inspiring, and poignantly honest. A must read for all foodies and memoir lovers who know the power food and family have to overcome nearly every obstacle in life. Josh Kilmer-Purcell

In Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression the “Banana” in question is Leite’s nickname, the “Food” a significant part of his career, the “Love” his long-term relationship with “The One”—otherwise known as Alan—and the “Manic Depression” his symptoms of bipolar disorder that surfaced in childhood and didn’t stabilize until his late 30’s or so. Leite is now in his 50’s.

B. David Zarley, Paste, praises Notes on a Banana as “one of the finest portraits of bipolar disorder I have ever read.” He speaks from the experience, like Leite, of living with hypomania, and he states the following about Leite’s diagnosis:

Bipolar II, to be specific, the form of the disorder marked by deep depressive modes and hypomanic episodes (hypomania being, as Leite describes it, ‘a watercolor version of bright-neon manias’). It is the alternating currents of depression and hypomania that have galvanized and rendered black Leite’s life, a perpetual rolling brownout.

Leite also once had signficant difficulty accepting being gay. Kirkus Reviews:

In college, the author had affairs with men while ‘dating’ a woman he fantasized would be his wife but with whom he could never have sex. He also began experiencing the chaotic extremes of the bipolar disorder that psychologists had mistakenly diagnosed as depression. Leaving college without a degree, Leite went to New York, where he worked first as a waiter then as an ad writer while unsuccessfully trying to turn straight through involvement with the ‘gay curing’ Aesthetic Realism movement. A long-term relationship with a man who ‘loved everything about the ceremony of the table’ led to Leite’s reimmersion in the cooking he loved and the Azorean culture from which he had separated himself. It also gave him the courage to seek the answers that had eluded him and his doctors about the truth of his condition.

In addition to the medications and therapy Leite now uses, he’s described other parts of his “bipolar arsenal” (his blog) :

…Things no shrink can prescribe and no therapist can analyze—namely, cooking and writing about food. Even on my worst days, when it feels like I have some gargantuan creature threatening to drag me down through the couch cushions, the simple act of swirling a knob of butter in a hot skillet can cheer me. And nothing mercifully bitch-slaps depression for a few hours like the utterly frustrating and highly improbable act of stringing together words, like pearls on a necklace, and turning those words into stories.

Selected Reviews of Notes on a Banana

Publishers Weekly:

He expertly walks the line between sad and funny, making himself the clown and hero of this coming-of-age tale. His firsthand account of mental illness pulls no punches, serving up an honest and open perspective on personal and family issues that are often swept under the rug. Despite Leite playing the leading man, the true stars of the memoir are Leite’s parents, who mirror his passion (his mother) and thoughtfulness (his father) and allow Leite to continually draw the focus of the story back to family and food, love and learning.

Drew Ramsey, MD: “Born into a devout immigrant community that didn’t believe in psychiatry or being gay, Leite fought for twenty-five years to understand the truth about himself–his triumph is rich with lessons for us all.”

Marya Hornbacher, author of Madness: A Bipolar Life: “In hilarious, deeply honest prose, Leite has brilliantly captured the light and dark of bipolar disorder. But this book does so much more. It explores the relationships between culture and family, friendship and food, love and the body. A memoir about the astonishing resilience of the human heart.”

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