Review: The Hottest Dishes in the Tartar Cuisine, Alina Bronsky

It turns out that a TBR shelf was the best idea I ever had. I’ve made the top section of my little bookshelf into a priority-reads shelf. Now when I am wondering what to read, and I think longingly of library books, my TBR shelf is like a stern little taskmaster going “Oh no you don’t, missy. You have all these books right here in your own very room.” And then I read those books instead, and honestly? I bought or asked for most of those books myself. There is no reason to suppose that I will like them any less than the books I would have gotten at the library.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the first of a number of books I received for review at various points in the year, and now am going to review over the next week or two. I have this TBR shelf and it has made me into a responsible book blogger who reads the books she receives for review. (Not promptly, I can’t say I always do it promptly, but from now on, I’m going to bring it with the promptness.)

Anyway, this is Alina Bronsky’s second novel published with Europa. It is about Rosalinda Achmetowna, a Tartar woman of exceptional beauty, intelligence, and organizational skills (or so she says), whose ugly daughter Sulfia finds herself pregnant. Though Rosa tries several times to induce an abortion, Sulfia has the baby, a beautiful little girl whom Rosa names Aminat and on whom she utterly dotes. She knows what is best for Aminat. For Sulfia as well. And for her husband. And for everyone, ever.

I was getting a hell of a kick out of Rosa for about the first half of this book. She’s so utterly convinced of her rightness in every situation, what’s best for her husband, what restrictions will make Aminat into a poised, well-behaved little girl, what sneaky little manipulations will obtain a husband for Sulfia. It is funny. I have a soft spot for characters who think they know best. I can neither confirm nor deny rumors that this is attributable to a character trait in me by which I always think I know best.

But then Rosa did something — and it wasn’t the something you might think — that made me stop liking her permanently. I am often surprised by the things that turn out to be moral event horizons for me, like that time I gave up on Snape forever for making fun of Hermione’s teeth (look, I don’t know why that was the thing for me), and I was surprised about this. I won’t spoil the book for you by telling you what Rosa did that put me off her. It’s really very funny, if you are a fan of exceptionally black humor, and it’s also quite sad. I would have liked to see a few more cracks in the facade of Rosa’s virtue, but mostly I was contented with the unreliableness of this narrator.

Here’s the warning on the label: If you are like my Mumsy and you are unduly bothered by mistreatment of children, this book maybe isn’t for you. Just for your information.

Other reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts
Leafing Through Life
The Boston Bibliophile
Largehearted Boy
JenandthePen
Indie Reader Houston
Conversational Reading

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • bookgazing

    Oh dear I would be gritting my teeth throughout, as I have more than enough people who think they know best around me. Of course I also think I know best a lot of the time, but 90% I keep it to myself!

    • I mostly keep it to myself, too, except when I am around my family and then all my frustration that other people aren’t doing what would be best for them comes spilling out and I’m all, WHY WILL THEY NOT LISTEN TO ME? :p

  • So a tbr = responsible blogging? Cool. Glad it’s working for you. I want to see a photo. please. Which reminds me that I should take a photo of my new bookshelves and explain the nutty convoluted thinking that went into how they are organized. Would likely be a fun post and fun posts ARE a part of responsible blogging. Or usually are at least widely madly happily commented-upon blog posts. Which is a good thing. Dont’ know why I can’t seem to complete a sentence. oH well. Are you in goodreads? Do you think I should NOT drink the full mug of coffee (my 4th) that is sitting next to me?
    OH! I want to read this book, btw.

    • I don’t know how to take a photo that would encompass all the books! I’ve put my TBR pile on my little turning bookshelf, so I’d have to rotate it several times and take a number of different pictures. It would not be very exciting.

      NO you should not have a fourth cup of coffee! That sounds insane! I am trying to imagine what I would be like on four cups of coffee. I get all jittery on two cups of coffee. But I guess now it is too late to stop you.

  • Thanks for the warning, daughter. I too like an unreliable narrator, and I also love this title, but I will hold off. Also: I think it would be a cool blogging activity for several of my favorite bloggers to post pictures of their TBR shelf and talk a little bit about it. Right? That might be fun?

    • Bloggers do that sometimes! I haven’t because it’s on my turning bookshelf that Daddy made me. But perhaps I will rearrange my books, put Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman and Martin Miller on the turning bookshelf, and move the TBR pile to the big one that Daddy and I collected when the movie rental place closed. I’ll take this plan under advisement.

  • Oh, I wish I had your stern little TBR taskmaster living with me! Even a visit! Does your SLTBRT make house calls?

    • I am afraid not. It’s all about having the books grouped in one place and gazing at me reproachfully.

  • So… If I tell you that I don’t think the book’d be for me, but I’m still curious about what moral line Rosa crossed for you, will you tell me? Not necessarily in comments. Because I am curious, and am not sure whether the book is for me and, anyway, I only care about spoilers when I *choose* to care about them. (Which means I am going “ARGH! SHUT UP!” at anyone and everyone talking about “A Dance with Dragons” in my vicinity. Which is thankfully non-existent so far so I haven’t had to yell at anyone. Except for the times where I went and hid from posts of the previous books, which I’ve all read, for reasons which I don’t even know.)

    I am glad that you seem to have enjoyed this, though, and that the TBR shelf is helping you. Long may the aid continue!

    • Emailed you to tell you! 🙂

  • Jenny

    I just reorganized my shelves a bit so that I have a clear, well-defined TBR shelf and can see all the titles properly. I have about twenty books on said TBR shelf, and about seven of them belong to my husband. And he told me that there were, and I quote, “too many” books on that shelf. And I said “No you di-n’t,” and I killed him with a billhook, the end.

    Well, no. But still! It belongs in the category of saying aren’t those pants a bit tight.

    • Twenty books is too many? That hardly seems fair. Twenty books is not that many. I haven’t counted the books on my TBR shelf, but (a) there are probably twenty and (b) my TBR shelf does not comprise all the books I need to read but haven’t yet read, just the ones I feel I need a nudge on. So I disagree with your husband. I consider that he is mistaken.

  • I have read a handful of reviews of this book, and there is something about it’s refusal to be politically and morally correct that has me really wanting to seek it out. I am not overly bothered by shocking things, and think that a character who thinks she is always right is exceptionally entertaining, I know that this is a darker book, but dangit, my interest is beyond piqued, and the more I hear about it the more I want to read it! And good for you about trying to get all those review books read. It’s a losing battle over here, but still, I try!

    • Do you want me to send you my copy? It’s just an ARC but you’re welcome to have it, if nobody’s taken it from the Free Books shelf at my work.

  • I know. I used to only read my own books, but then I started getting a bit obsessed with the library… This year I have been doing much better at remembering all the unread books I own and less about the library. I still support the library for a bit of variety, though.

    • I love getting library books, but I am very unfond of the library here. I wanted to love it! But it refuses to be loved. It’s all sort of dark and cramped and unpleasant, and it seems like they never have the books I want, and holds take ten years to arrive. I miss my library at home!

  • Amy

    You had me until you mentioned the mistreatment of children. Don’t know why (I have no children) but that always turns me off. Thanks for the warning. Besides the mistreatment things, it actually sounds good.

    • It is! But oddly, the thing that put me off wasn’t even mistreatment of children. It was just a particular means of manipulating people that I find loathsome.

  • TBR shelves are brilliant! Unless you hide them behind action figures and read other things instead. Then the effectiveness wears off.

    I have this book! I have her other one as well. I won them in a contest. Now I’m kind of wary about reading it/them, because of the mistreatment of children thing and also the really black humor (which I sometimes like, but mostly seems to upset me). Er.

    • I do not have any action figures, so I need not worry! Well, I do have a little Oscar Wilde action figure, but I didn’t bring it with me to New York.

  • Hmm, so many inappropriate things to choose from, in regards to what turned you off of Rosa.

    • Hahahaha, true. But it was SPOILERS EVERYONE ELSE the part where she tries to kill herself and prevents Sulfia and Aminat from going to Israel and being happy.

  • A TBR shelf? That’s a really good idea! I just may have to steal it. I have a place where I put all my library books, which serves to lecture me in much the same way your TBR shelf does, but I like the idea of putting all the books I own and have not read in one place.

    Also: I love that your TBR shelf calls you “missy.”

    • A bunch of bloggers have one! but I never have. Until now when I have extremely limited shelf and storage space and I want to have new books. It’s good particularly for books that I don’t necessarily think I’m going to love. I think that’s why my TBR shelf calls me “missy”, because it suspects me of skiving off.