July 24, 2007


Two of the topics that govern my life are law and food. The two don’t often intersect, but when they do, I’m in my glory.

That explains why I enjoyed Saira Rao's first book, Chaimbermaid. Rao is a lawyer who clerked for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals here in Philadelphia. After her clerkship and a stint at a large law firm in New York, she decided to risk it all to become an author. If Chaimbermaid is any indication, Rao made the right choice.

Chaimbermaid is a fictional account of a judicial clerk, Shelia Raj, and her experience at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals here in Philadelphia. A lot of the action takes place in Philadelphia restaurants, including such gems as Rouge, The Continental, Jones, Las Vegas Lounge and Ralph’s. It’s interesting to see the perspective of these restaurants from a character who is not a Philadelphia native. And Shelia’s objectivity is refreshing. For example, Shelia, who hails from New York, is annoyed by the velvet rope elitism practiced at Rouge and is not a fan of The Continental’s “Oriental Ginger Noodle Salad.” Yet, she’s grounded enough to appreciate the simple comforts of the mac-and-cheese and deviled eggs at Jones.

The book has received a lot of press due to its so-called scandalous, fly-on-the-wall perspective of what happens inside the chambers of a federal appeals court judge. This aspect of the book certainly is a draw, especially to us lawyer types, and does carry its share of the book’s humor. But the press’s reaction to all of this is a bit extreme.

Perhaps I have been around the block a few too many times or am thicker skinned than most, but—fiction or not—the colorful behind-the-scenes tales are more silly than scandalous, especially compared to the absurdity of law firm life as told by folks such as Opinionistas and Anonymous Lawyer. Moreover, Rao’s stories did not diminish my respect and reverence for the court. In the end, all judges are human beings. And Rao, in fact, demonstrates that it takes an exceptional kind of human being to be the effective judge that Judge Friedman is in Chambermaid.

In addition, there’s a lot more to Chambermaid than the gossipy goings-on behind chamber doors. For example, one of the key plot threads involves a high-profile death penalty case Shelia has been assigned. Death penalty jurisprudence can be complicated stuff (I know; I represented a death row inmate back in the day). But Rao not only manages to make death penalty jurisprudence approachable, she also makes it engaging.

Yet, Chambermaid is still an escape. Rao’s style is light, witty and entertaining. And her book is chock full of politics, love and other tumultuous happenings in the life of a young lawyer struggling for direction and identity. Chaimbermaid is the perfect beach read for anyone interested in a young professional’s perspective on law, Center City or the Philadelphia dining scene.

Join Saira Rao today (Tuesday) for a rare appearance here in Philadelphia. She will be reading exerpts from Chambermaid and signing books at Barnes & Noble (1805 Walnut St.) at 7:00 p.m. For more info, check out SairaRao.com.

1 comment:

ruarri said...

I've always found that sort of duality interesting. I mean come on, Law and Food?

I've got a friend whose a bass guitarist, accomplished violinist and plays in a mettle band... but by day he's a chartered accountant passionate about classical music and mettle.

On the food note - to put all us bloggers to shame, there's Pim Techamuanvivit from www.chezpim.com who came to the US from Thailand to work for Cisco - and really enjoyed eating at local restaurants, which she began to write about. And now of course, she's perhaps the most successful foodie on the net... from programming to food blogging. Pretty crazy. You gotta love the internet...