Friday, February 3, 2012

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

Rosalinda Achmetowna's tale begins in 1978, in a Soviet city that is 27 hours away from Moscow by train, when Rosa learns that her only daughter is pregnant. Sulfia is her mother's oposite. "Sulfia was as gentle as a flower. If someone spat on her she took it for fresh rain and stretched out her petals to soak it up."

Rosa does not say this as a compliment. She has more affection for her new granddaughter, Aminat. So much so that she considers Aminat hers, and not Sulfia's.

Rosa is the most indomitable woman I've ever encountered in fiction. Her capacity for meddling seems to have no limits. She's an unreliable narrator, but with such a great voice:

"I didn't look anything like a grandmother at all. I looked good. I was pretty and young looking. You could see that I had vitality and was intelligent. I often had to mask my expression to keep other people from reading my thoughts and stealing my ideas."

Too impatient to sit through a lesson familiarizing her with the parts of a car at her first driving lesson, Rose wrestles with the instructor. "I got the key, put it in the ignition, stepped on the pedal, and yanked the gearshift. The car must have been in need of repairs, because it moved in a series of jumps before coughing and stalling."

Author Alina Bronsky takes readers on an unpredictable ride through the years, following the lives of Rosa, Sulfia and Aminat. Like Aminat, Bronsky moved from Russia to Germany in late childhood. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine has been translated to English from German. Dig in!

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