I thought I’d join in with Musing Mondays again. It’s hosted by Miz B over at Should Be Reading and offers a list of prompts to choose from. I’m going with the first prompt on the list today because I’m loving what I’m currently reading . . .
As the post title suggests, it’s a book that takes the reader back to the USSR. In fact the book also takes the reader back to pre-revolutionary Russia, as well as whizzing through post-Soviet Russia into the new millennium.
So it’s a history book, right? Well, yes – and no! The book is Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen, and is a brilliantly well-written memoir of food, family and longing as its subtitle suggests. The author herself was born into a Moscow family in the 1960s and, at the age of 10, emigrated with her mother to the USA, settling first in Philadelphia and later moving to New York.
Against a backdrop of her own family’s dramatic history, set itself on the wider stage of Russia history throughout the 20th century, the author recreates the food and cooking experiences of the nation for each decade from 1900 to the present day.
It’s a brilliantly- conceived idea, but the real reason the book makes such a fascinating read is the author’s extraordinary ability to combine both personal and national history with politics, family life, work, food and cooking. And the whole concoction is seasoned with a huge dollop of humour running throughout. Von Bremzen has a lovely readable style, yet writes with great clarity and insight. I myself spent time in the Soviet Union and Russia from the early 1980s and so have eaten the food of these different decade. But, even without that live experience, I have no doubt that the author’s writing would have enabled me to picture, smell and taste the foods she describes. There are even a few recipes included at the back of the book, so that readers can recreate some of these foodie experiences for themselves.
The chapters describing the late Soviet years, when most things were defitsit (lack/shortage) resonated most for me because of my personal experience, and I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the memories it brought back. But this is a book with wide appeal. You don’t need to know anything about Russia and its history – this memoir will give you a mouth-watering introduction to this incredible country. But if you’ve ever had any kind of interest in the country – or in what it might have been like to live in communist times – this book will more than whet your appetite. In fact, I would challenge anyone to read it and not be stuffed full by the end – full of new insights, fascinating snippets of information, with humour, poignancy and serious reflection all mixed up in every bite.