Review: “Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir Of Food And Longing” By Anya Von Bremzen

I received this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing the title. The publication date shown on NetGalley as September 17, 2013, so note this review is on an advanced copy, not the final published work.

First, note this is a memoir, not a cookbook. I was hoping for the latter, but ended up being no less disappointed. The primary reason for that is Bremzen takes us on a tour through her family and Soviet history for the last hundred years or so. The common thread throughout this history is, not surprisingly, food. Lack of food. Excess food. Strange food. Common food. You name it.

Being a history buff, I found the entire book quite fascinating. I’ve never really read much of Soviet history as told by an expatriate, so I thoroughly enjoyed this offering. The book tells of two generations preceding the author up through modern-day times. Covered are her families struggles before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Cold War, and even the breakup of the USSR. Bremzen also discussed her and her mother’s struggles after their emigration from Russia, as each struggled in different ways to adapt to American culture. Americans who view our country as the top of the heap will be very interested in the author’s take on supermarkets and other such American cultural icons, as when she first arrives in America, the Land Of Plenty seems entirely too, well, foreign to her.

Bremzen also discusses the end of the Cold War and her family’s ability to travel to and from Russia following the advent of glasnost and perestroĭka. It’s very interesting to see how her views of Russia both alter and remain the same as she is further and further removed from her 1974 immigration to America.

And finally, the last chapter of the book includes one recipe for each decade covered in the book. Bremzen and her mother chose the recipe they believed was most representative of that decade, for inclusion in the book. I was pleased to find the recipes I was most interested in included, so I was definitely a happy camper.

Overall, this is a wonderful telling of life in and out of Russia over the last hundred-plus years. Fans of memoirs, American immigrants and Soviet history in the 20th century will all find this engaging.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

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