A mother and daughter relive their memories of 20th-Century Russian history through its food...
Born in a surreal Moscow communal apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen, Anya von Bremzen grew up singing odes to Lenin, black-marketeering Juicy Fruit gum at school, and longing for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy and, finally, intolerable. In 1974, when Anya was ten, she and her mother fled to the USA, with no winter coats and no right of return. These days, Anya is the doyenne of high-end food writing. And yet, the flavour of Soviet kolbasa, like Proust's madeleine, transports her back to that vanished Atlantis known as the USSR .
In this sweeping, tragicomic memoir, Anya recreates seven decades of the Soviet experience through cooking and food, and reconstructs a moving family history spanning three generations. Her narrative is embedded in a larger historical epic: Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II starvation, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's disastrous anti-alcohol policies and the ultimate collapse of the USSR. And all of this is bound together by Anya's sardonic wit, passionate nostalgia and piercing observations. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a book that stirs the soul as well as the senses.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
You know how sometimes you feel a book is so special that it has been written with you and only you in mind?
Well, that’s how I felt about this book. Having known several Soviet citizens at very close quarters, I understand how central food and the lack of it is to the national psyche. And I once celebrated the fall of the Berlin wall with a themed New Year’s Eve dinner of which the centrepiece was a fiendishly difficult dish: Coulibiac, a traditional Russian fish pie with a yeast dough casing that took two days to make and which my friend and I baked in the shape of a hammer and sickle for extra effect. (It was spectacular, I have to say, but never to be repeated.)
So this book had me at hello, comrade.
Anya Von Bremzen is already an acknowledged authority on the cuisine of her homeland thanks to her award-winning Please To The Table cookbook. Now she has written a substantial,tasty,bittersweet memoir which uses food to examine the disastrous agricultural and social policies of the communist regime under Stalin, Khrushchev and even Gorbachev, when hardships and privations forced a nation to queue for meagre rations even when there was no war on.
Drinking the brine of irony that pickled a nation’s sanity - only just - Bremzen composes a personal menu memoir of great anecdotes and characters but the book really belongs to her superb, indomitable mother, her cooking and her spirit.
Na zdarovie, tovarisch!
About the Author
Anya von Bremzen has been many things: as a child in the Soviet Union, she was the granddaughter of the former head of Naval intelligence, and thus a bona fide member of the nomenklatura; she was also the daughter of a disaffected dissident; a child actress; a piano prodigy. Then, because of political repressions in Brezhnev-era Russia, she and her mother became emigres, to America. Eventually, when an injury ended her piano career, she reinvented herself as one of the most accomplished food writers of her generations: the author of five acclaimed cookbooks, the recipient of three James Beard awards, and a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. Anya's articles have also appeared in The New Yorker, Food & Wine, Saveur, and the Los Angeles Times. She divides her time between New York City and Istanbul.
"Moving and darkly comic" -- Niki Segnit The Sunday Times "Heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. This is an important book, a must read!" Heston Blumenthal "Vastly entertaining... A real treat." Woman & Home "By turns funny, tragic and nostalgic, this is a wonderful, fascinating volume, which puts a human face on the grim pages of the history books" The Lady "This poignant memoir is an education in the richness of eastern European cuisine, and the story of Soviet communism, through the lens of family experience." Observer