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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking : A Memoir of Food and Longing
by Anya Von Bremzen

Overview -

A James Beard Award-winning writer captures life under the Red socialist banner in this wildly inventive, tragicomic memoir of feasts, famines, and three generations
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR--a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.  Read more...


 
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More About Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen
 
 
 
Overview

A James Beard Award-winning writer captures life under the Red socialist banner in this wildly inventive, tragicomic memoir of feasts, famines, and three generations
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR--a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.
Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy--and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.
Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble "kolbasa" transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience--turning Larisa's kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories." Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous, featuring a decadent fish pie from the pages of Chekhov, "chanakhi "(Stalin's favorite Georgian stew), blini, and more.
Through these meals, Anya tells the gripping story of three Soviet generations--
masterfully capturing the strange mix of idealism, cynicism, longing, and terror that defined Soviet life. We meet her grandfather Naum, a glamorous intelligence chief under Stalin, and her grandmother Liza, who made a perilous odyssey to icy, blockaded Leningrad to find Naum during World War II. We meet Anya's hard-drinking, sarcastic father, Sergei, who cruelly abandons his family shortly after Anya is born; and we are captivated by Larisa, the romantic dreamer who grew up dreading the black public loudspeakers trumpeting the glories of the Five-Year Plan. Their stories unfold against the vast panorama of Soviet history: Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's disastrous anti-alcohol policies. And, ultimately, the collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya's passionate nostalgia, sly humor, and piercing observations.
" Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is that rare book that stirs our souls and our senses.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307886811
  • ISBN-10: 0307886816
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
  • Publish Date: September 2013
  • Page Count: 338


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > History > Europe - Russia & the Former Soviet Union
Books > Cooking > Regional & Ethnic - Russian

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-08-26
  • Reviewer: Staff

Author of several international cookbooks, Moscow-born von Bremzen immigrated to U.S. shores with her mother in 1974. Here, she unlocks conflicted memories of her Soviet upbringing through reminiscences of certain dishes that became her very own “poisoned madeleines.” The period covered by the book begins with the fall of the czar in 1917 and ends with the triumphant return of the mother-and-daughter duo to “Putin’s mean petro-dollar capital” in 2011 in order to do their very own TV cooking show. Each decade is represented by foods that evoke emotional volumes: the fussy, decadent pre-Revolution aristocrat’s diet of burbot liver and viziga gave way to Lenin’s culinary austerity, exemplified by a spartan apple cake; the labor-intensive gefilte fish made by the author’s Jewish grandmother in Odessa was deemed unpatriotic and was replaced by utilitarian kotleti (Russian hamburgers); and food shortages and the rationing of the 1940s prompted “sham” foods for the starvation diet. The fluctuating political winds of the Soviet state were harnessed in successive editions of the totalitarian culinary bible, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, where American and Jewish ingredients were unceremoniously deleted during the 1950s Cold War. Corn, caviar, mayonnaise, and vodka: for both von Bremzen and her mother, a teacher, these were the subjects of intense longing, as they endured living in a communal apartment with 18 other people and being abandoned by von Bremzen’s father, as well as regimented schooling and harassment as Jews. Recipes included. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)

 
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