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The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine – Alina Bronsky – 5/10

“As my daughter Sulfia was explaining that she was pregnant but that she didn’t know by whom, I paid extra attention to my posture. I sat with my back perfectly straight and folded my hands elegantly in my lap.”


Rosa’s mentally hindered daughter Sulfia announces a pregnancy. Despite Rosa’s best folkloric efforts, Aminat is born, and from that moment Rosa employs every fibre of her cunning, strength, effort and money into wrestling her away from Sulfia, claiming Sulfia is an unfit mother. When a travelling German writer becomes fixated on Aminat, Rosa sees her escape to the West.

Wow. Just wow. Rosa is a seriously devious, evil character. Can understand why she makes it onto a few villain lists (to quote Literate Housewife: “Rosa Achmetowna makes Scarlett O’Hara look like a Girl Scout and perhaps even Mother of the Year. Her story should be compulsory reading for every teenage daughter who thinks her mother is the worst mother in the world. Very few mothers will retain monster status in comparison”). But I had to keep reading as the horror of the situation spiralled further, while Rosa believed she still has it all totally under control. She does remind me of a much less pleasant Emily Gilmore.

We never really establish what’s wrong with Sulfia, which I found frustrating; not being able to escape Rosa’s psychotic brain does leave quite a few puzzles unanswered. Similarly, Aminat is an interesting character and I would have liked to have spent more time with her. A dual approach would have been interesting here – alternating chapters written by Rosa and Aminat? The men are pretty dire – which is a trend I’m finding in my reading at the moment. Although in this case, the women are dire too so it’s not poor writing of male characters… What I couldn’t understand was the fact that every man tolerated Rosa’s bizarre behaviour!

Plot wise? There’s no great rush – it’s the tension and movements in the power struggle between the three generations of women that propel us towards the end. Thus the plot feels haphazardly timed; for a long time nothing really happens, then suddenly there’s a rush for Israel. Then nothing happens again for a long time, then Germany. I suspect that I didn’t get on with this because the humour didn’t do anything for me; the blurb suggests that it is “told with sly humour and an anthropologist’s eye for detail… women whose destinites are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic.”

All in all – odd. Definitely a book I’ll remember for a while, and unlike anything else I read this year. However, not a pleasant experience – the humour fell short for me.

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