Friday, September 9, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

   Rosa is the type of person who believes she has never made a mistake - that all of life's misfortunes can be attributed to the stupidity and carelessness of others (especially members of her own family).  But when her daughter, Sulfia, gives birth to a baby girl, Rosa's life takes on a new meaning.  She spends all her time and efforts on her beautiful granddaughter, Aminat, in hopes that she will someday make her grandmother proud.  All Rosa asks is that Aminat become a rich and/or famous Tartar woman.  However, Rosa is so cold-hearted and impersonal that she has no idea how to develop and maintain relationships, especially with a child.  She is sometimes hilariously clueless, and sometimes tragically so.

   Rosa knows that her family cannot survive in Soviet Russia, so when an older German man takes an inappropriate interest in Aminat (who is only 12), Rosa interprets this as their opportunity to move to the west, where she truly believes her daughter and granddaughter will thrive.  But Rosa, who has never understood sympathy and compassion, is baffled when she finds that her family is unhappy in Germany.  Of course she sees this as typical ungrateful adolescent behavior for which she is in no way responsible.  In turn, she becomes increasingly isolated and alone, and she has no idea why.

   Rosa is one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever come across.  She believes that she loves her family and is doing what is best for them, but her ego and pride are what really control her decisions.  She holds family loyalty and respect in high regard, but is incapable of bestowing these sentiments upon others.  Alina Bronsky's portrayal of a mother who completely lacks maternal instincts is funny and entertaining, but is also a disturbing window into the tragic outcome of failed relationships in a world where human connection has become an art that requires talent.