Monday, April 25, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

This week was supposed to be the perfect working vacation, full of reading and blogging catch-up and all sorts of great wonderment. I finally got that dog-sitting gig that people dream about. Two lovable little Yorkies, a dog door that opens onto a huge fenced in backyard, a house and a TV and an internet connection all to myself, and some cash to boot. Sounds great, right? Too bad one of my charges is the Houdini of Yorkshire Terriers. I'd been here for all of 2 hours when he made his first escape. I patrolled the perimeter and blocked any potential escape routes I could find. Then I left and hoped for the best. All was well.

The next morning, I found him on the wrong side of the fence again. I reclaimed the delinquent doggie, stalked all about the yard like a crazy person using assorted objects to block more possible escape routes. With pants wet up to mid-calf, I arrived 15 minutes late to church. Returned from Easter dinner, dogs present and accounted for. All is well, right? Not so much, he got me again. Once again retrieved delinquent doggie and blocked even more unlikely escape routes (he's good, Yorkie Houdini, very good). For the moment I've got the dog door shut, and am enjoying some relative peace. Here's hoping the coming week isn't full of repeat performances. The damage is already done anyway. Anytime they go out, I'm riddled with paranoia regardless of whether my half-baked escape foiling has its desired effect. The owners don't seem to be half as panicked as I am. Good for them. I am a basket case.

The point of this story is to warn you that yet another week is likely to go by unmarked by my pitiful efforts at regularly updating ye olde blog. Here I am, though, to attempt to churn out a review before unleashing the hounds again.

Once upon a time, okay, last year, I received for reading and reviewing purposes, Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park. As always, I was very taken with the lovely Europa paperback edition, but despite its being enjoyed by many a blogger, I was a little meh on it. The narrator kind of frightened me, but the writing was top notch, so when a chance to review her latest, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine came along, I didn't hesitate, and I'm glad of it. Don't get me wrong. This narrator is probably even more frightening, but perhaps I'm getting used to it.

Rosalinda Achmetowna only wants the best for the people she loves. Really, everything that she does so well is all for the benefit of her "ugly" daughter, Sulfia, her hapless husband, Kalganow, and her beloved, willful granddaughter Aminat. She is determined to find her daughter a husband, whatever the cost, and she knows she must rescue her granddaughter from Sulfia's "incompetent" parenting.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is Rosa's story as told by Rosa herself. Her ill-conceived helpfulness is something that her family members hope only to escape. Readers will cringe and occasionally laugh at Rosa's twisted idea of benevolence as she tries to woo perspective husbands to her perpetually cowed daughter with everything from extravagant dinners, small briberies, and forceful threats. Readers will be appalled but absorbed in the telling as Rosa uses her cleverness and wiles to escape the Soviet Union when she extorts sponsorship for she, Sulfia, and Aminat from a German man visiting to collect recipes for a cookbook about Tartar cuisine. Rosa's games are dangerous and self-serving indeed, though it will take dreadful outcomes to make her see the cruel realities of her actions.

Bronsky's got an incredible talent for telling a story from a totally believable point of view of an extremely vivid, if bizarre and eye-poppingly self-deceived, narrator. Rosalinda is a domineering mother of epic proportions, a woman who "selflessly" afflicts all her loved ones with her inflated ego and with those things that she thinks are best, that to most people with sense, are completely crazy and undeniably reckless. She is a terribly unreliable narrator, but an incredibly unique one that makes for a cleverly told story. Despite her behavior, which is sometimes utterly repellent, readers will be loathe to look away from a story rife with personality and dark humor.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is not going to be a book for everyone. Bronsky is an undeniable talent, but the brutal honesty of her stories can be something of an acquired taste. It's easy to be appalled at the many terrible things Rosa does in her quest to do "the best things for everyone," and really, it seems as if that is, in fact, the point. At the same time, though, readers might find Rosa to be, despite all odds, a sympathetic character. On the whole, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is a disturbing tale told in the cleverest way with a unique narrator whose compelling voice will help you forgive a multitude of sins.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine hits shelves April 26th.

(Thanks to Kat at Regal Literary for providing me with a review copy!)


  1. Thanks for the review. I had heard of this book and was intrigued but couldn't find a lot of information on it. I think I will definitely check it out now.

  2. I wish you lived near me. We have a 15 year old dog who lives to eat and sleep and we can't find anyone to dogsit her like that here. When we lived in Auburn, we had college kids begging for the job.

    The book sounds interesting - I'll have to check it out the next time I'm in a bookstore.

  3. I wish you lived near me. We have a 15 year old dog who lives to eat and sleep and we can't find anyone to dogsit her like that here. When we lived in Auburn, we had college kids begging for the job.