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June 29, 2011

Book Notes - Alina Bronsky ("The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Alina Bronsky's novel The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine delivers the most unforgettable and entertaining fictional character of the year. Rosalinda Achmetowna, the book's unreliable narrator, is fascinatingly manipulative, deceitful, and selfish. Her worldview is captivating, and Bronsky's talent at engulfing the reader in her mind is evident from the first page to the last. At turns laugh out loud funny and horrifying, this book is an instant dark humor classic.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of the book:

"The clever Bronsky delivers such a delicious satire of Soviet life, and family life in general, that the rules shift. Some of the credit for this must go to translator Tim Mohr, who won a Three Percent Award for best translation of 2007. He also nails her everyday poeticisms. For example, Kalganow and his mistress aren't merely happy together, they're like 'two drops of grease on the surface of a bowl of soup that melt into one.'"

In her own words, here is Alina Bronsky's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine:

My novel The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of a Soviet-Tartar family. It opens with the birth of a girl, Aminat, and follows her for three decades as she grows up, moves from Russia to Germany, disappears and then reemerges on the TV screen - always observed and dominated by her well meaning but extremely selfish grandmother.

The soundtrack for the novel must start with some clips of Soviet pop music - don’t be shocked, the book begins in the 1970s.

1. First of all, of course, would be "Arlekino" (Harlequin), an early song by Alla Pugacheva. There are not many artists who have managed to stay at the peak of their popularity for more than 30 years; Alla Pugacheva is one of them. She has a lovely voice and puts on a terribly funny performance.

2. Al Bano Carrisi & Romina Power- "Felicita"

Nobody could ever give me a good explanation for the constant broadcast of Italian schlager music on Soviet television in the 1980s. Hardly any Russian could speak a foreign language at the time, but every kid knew the Italian word for “happiness“.

3. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s "Wedding March" can’t be missed because there are three weddings in the book (and even more thoughts about matchmaking). None of the weddings are celebrated solemnly enough, so this March only plays in my heroine’s head.

4. "American Boy", which is performed by Kombinatsiya, one of the first Russian girl bands. This song was an anthem for Russian girls longing for the West during the 1990s. Now it makes my entire generation cry out of embarrassment. I know it’s really painful, but I just couldn’t help including it.

5. "Wind of Change" by the Scorpions

This addresses is a similar subject as above, but interpreted very differently.

6. To make it complete: "Go West" by The Pet Shop Boys.

Okay, now it’s no longer a secret: my book is about emigration.

7. The first part if the novel considers different aspects of Soviet family life. Some of them might seem pretty exotic, for example my heroine’s relationship to her unfaithful husband. The song “You Got Drunk Like a Pig” by Verka Serduchka, a legendary Ukrainian travesty singer, could be considered a perfect accompaniment.

8. "Not a Crime" by Gogol Bordello

Some people think Gogol Bordello makes pretty rowdy music. I agree - but I love their great song titles and often wise lyrics. If you’re writing about Eastern Europe, you start to hope that Gogol Bordello will do the soundtrack for your story. Another useful thing about them is that if you have to meet a deadline, and it’s late in the evening and you’re falling asleep - don’t drink coffee, just listen to Gogol Bordello.

Alina Bronsky and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine links:

the author's website

Author Exposure review
Bookslut review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Fiction Addict review
Financial Times review
Gina Choe review
Kirkus Reviews review
Leafing Through Life review review
Ms. Magazine Blog review
New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Stephanie Anderson's review
Three Guys One Book review
Three Percent review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

Conversational Reading interview with the translator
New York Times interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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