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The Finacial Times: "A masterful study in delusion"

Date: Apr 29 2011

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The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Review by Maria Crawford

Published: April 29 2011 22:13 | Last updated: April 29 2011 22:13

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr, Europa Editions, RRP$15, 304 pages


When her 17-year-old daughter reveals that she is pregnant – with a baby conceived in a dream – Rosalinda Achmetowna remains coolly focused on her own response. For, as in all dramatic turns in her offspring’s life, Rosalinda demands centre stage.


Alina Bronsky’s second novel revisits elements of her acclaimed debut: a Russian family emigrating to Germany and a first-person narrator stubbornly dedicated to her family’s survival. But, while Broken Glass Park was told in the voice of an orphaned eldest sibling, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is narrated by Rosalinda, whose matriarchal machinations would send Hollywood incarnations of domineering mothers scampering for cover.


Spanning 30 years, this is a masterful study in delusion. Rosalinda’s determination to “make up for the failure of others”, mixed with her inability to read almost any situation accurately, causes irrevocable harm to her daughter, Sulfia, and granddaughter Aminat.


From the day of Aminat’s birth, Rosalinda is hell-bent on appropriating the maternal role, using false documents to certify Sulfia as an unfit mother and staging a suicide attempt to manipulate her. But her mission backfires when her cruelty extends to the next generation. Keen to escape Soviet hardship, she encourages her unwitting daughter to marry a German paedophile, using pictures of a pre-pubescent Aminat as bait. Later, as Sulfia’s health fails, Rosalinda sows the ultimate seeds of guilt by laying full responsibility on her grandchild’s impressionable shoulders.


If this sounds twisted, it certainly is. But Rosalinda is no cardboard cut-out villain. There are hints of childhood tragedy at the roots of her psyche, and flashes of honesty, along with her wit, make her not entirely dislikeable.


By the end of the book, Aminat’s surreal rise to fame coincides with her grandmother’s descent into grief-driven madness; the lines between Rosalinda’s observations and hallucinations, already blurred, have finally dissolved.


Bronsky excels in relating heartache through a narrator who refuses to acknowledge it, in herself or others. The result is a story that is, by turns, insightful and subversive, funny and disturbing.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.



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