The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine
Richardson, Paul E., Russian Life
Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions, $15)
From the first page of this book, we know we are not supposed to like Rosalinda Achmetowna, the conniving Tatar matriarch and relentlessly unreliable narrator of Bronsky's new novel. And yet, somehow, Rosa's evil streak is lovable, her self-deception endearing, as in her repeated protestations that she "only wants what is best for everyone." Which of course means she has a new scheme afoot.
In one interview, author Alina Bronsky remarked that "Most readers understand very quickly who Rosa is. She is obviously not very nice, but she tries to be. I had expected people to hate her. To my great surprise lots of readers love her, even if they are aware of all her tricks."
Indeed, Hottest Dishes is a disturbingly entertaining story of the untidy lives of three women (mother, daughter, granddaughter) set against the backdrop of a rapidly disintegrating country. Men, meanwhile, are incidental to Rosa's narrative--just bothersome outsiders that are useful to have around from time to time, provided they are suitably docile or provide a sound stepping stone to the achievement of Rosa's ends--to craft a better life for herself, her granddaughter and her daughter, in that order.
While the novel's story line is compelling, it is Rosa's narrative voice that will seduce you. …