Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky
304 pages
Published April 2011 by Europa Editions
Source: the publisher

When 17-year-old Sulfia Kalganowa tells her mother that she's pregnant and doesn't know who the father is, her mother, Rosa, doesn't jump to the usual conclusion that her daughter has been sleeping around. Instead, Rosa believes that Sulfia must have gotten pregnant by looking at a man. Is Rosa stupid? Not at all, Rosa just has such a low opinion of her daughter that doesn't think any man would have her. Even if her daughter happens to be a medical miracle, Rosa isn't going to allow her daughter to have this baby and bring shame to her own good name. Despite her best efforts, however, some months later, Aminat is born and Rosa is smitten, despite the child's tendency to cry all of the time. The little girl looks just like Rosa, after all, and isn't that a fortunate thing?

Beginning in 1978 Russia and for the next thirty years, Rosa will spend all of her time and energy "helping" Sulfia find a suitable husband, raising Aminat in the right way (something Sulfia clearly isn't capable of doing), and making sure she gets everything she deserves out of her own life.

Those of you who have read "Olive Kitteridge" will cringe when I tell you that Rosa Achemetowna makes Olive look like the mother of the year. She is, perhaps the most egotistical character ever brought to life on the page and one of the most conniving.
"I think it pleased Sergej to have such a graceful swan like me as his mother-in-law, especially given that he had married such an ugly duckling."
Far from finding Rosa so disagreeable that I didn't want to read another word about her, Bronsky pulled me into Rosa's world. Even after Rosa essentially sells her daughter to a pedophile, I still could not bring myself to hate her. In fact, by the end of the book, I even began to feel sorry for this woman who was so wrapped up in her own view of the world, that she couldn't see what was really happening around her, couldn't really see the people around her for who they were.

Bronsky's writing is crisp, yet detailed and she writes with a wit that makes a character like Rosa someone the reader will care about. I accepted this book as part of my continuing effort to widen my view of the world and I was not disappointed. Bronsky shows the reader what life was like in Russia in the 1980's and 90's for the average citizen and what it felt like for those who finally decided they needed to find another life for themselves in another country. Although the title of this book may give the impression that the book is a light read, Bronsky pulls together a number of serious themes, making it an excellent choice for book clubs.

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