Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine - Alina Bronsky

There are a lot of things out there that boil down to genetics - your height, your eye color, sometimes even your mannerisms and personality type.  It's a constant debate of nature vs. nurture on what's inherited and what's learned, but I like to think that my love of good books is a genetic trait I inherited from my mom.  Both she and I have no issue spending an entire day curled up on the couch - or even better, in bed! - reading a good book.  As such, we often like to share what we're reading with each other and make recommendations.  Granted, my mom sometimes likes to read books that are sad and serious, which I often find just depressing, a lot of the time she actually has some good recommendations.  The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky is a book that my mom recommended to me after she read it upon finding an article about it in The New Yorker.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is narrated by Rosa - a spunky woman who has a comment for everything (hmmm, reminds me of quite a few Russian women I know.)  Rosa finds that her only daughter, Sulfia, is mysteriously pregnant at 17 "from a dream."  (The fact that this belief is hardly even questioned throughout the story makes me wonder if maybe there should have been a bit more "sex education" in the former Soviet Union...) Rosa attempts many "old world" remedies to abort her grandchild with the help of dwelling-mate Klavdia, but none work and 9-months later, Aminat is born.  Rosa instantly falls in love with the child, who unlike her own daughter is beautiful - "Tartar through and through," - and essentially begins to raise her as her own.  The rest of the book goes on to tell the story of the struggles these women go through as their lives change and eventually they end up in Germany where Sulfia is intended to marry a journalist who in reality has his eye on Aminat. But even though they are out of the Soviet Union, life doesn't get any easier, and adjusting to a new way of life is harder for the two older women.

The story ends on a fairly bittersweet note, I think. Rosa is a woman full of character at the beginning of the book and throughout, but towards the end, you can really sense how she has changed as a person based on the experiences that she has gone through.  Towards the end, you really start to feel sorry for her and all hat she has endured.

Although a good story, and a fairly fast read, in my opinion (I read it in 3 days),  The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine might be more appreciated by someone who has actually endured the struggle of emigration.  Granted, I am myself an immigrant - coming to the United States at the age of almost 2 from the former Soviet Union - but I think someone that can actually recall the hardship and accurately compare/contrast lifestyles would really appreciate the little nuances in this book.  For example, Rosa's bribery of figureheads with fruits and chocolates.  Although I understand this logic based on stories from my parents and grandma about life in the "old country," I think someone like my mom - who came here at the age of 22 and can remember actually living through that use of logic - would be more appreciative of this story.

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