10 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

OK, here we are, at the final match of the first ever Women’s World Cup of Literature. If you missed any of the earlier games, or just want to read about all the incredible books that were included in this tournament, just click here.

The Championship pits two very different books against one another. On one side is Germany’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr.

Rosa Achmetowna is the outrageously nasty and wily narrator of this rollicking family saga from the author of Broken Glass Park. When she discovers that her seventeen-year-old daughter, “stupid Sulfia,” is pregnant by an unknown man she does everything to thwart the pregnancy, employing a variety of folkloric home remedies. But despite her best efforts the baby, Aminat, is born nine months later at Soviet Birthing Center Number 134. Much to Rosa’s surprise and delight, dark eyed Aminat is a Tartar through and through and instantly becomes the apple of her grandmother’s eye. While her good for nothing husband Kalganow spends his days feeding pigeons and contemplating death at the city park, Rosa wages an epic struggle to wrestle Aminat away from Sulfia, whom she considers a woefully inept mother. When Aminat, now a wild and willful teenager, catches the eye of a sleazy German cookbook writer researching Tartar cuisine, Rosa is quick to broker a deal that will guarantee all three women a passage out of the Soviet Union. But as soon as they are settled in the West, the uproariously dysfunctional ties that bind mother, daughter and grandmother begin to fray.

Told with sly humor and an anthropologist’s eye for detail, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of three unforgettable women whose destinies are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic. In her new novel, Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive.

On the other side of the field, there’s Canada’s Margaret Atwood and Oryx & Crake, the first book in the MaddAddam Trilogy. (Already a beer, soon to be an HBO show.)

Oryx & Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

An aggressive, dysfunctional mother against the apocalypse. Bio-modified animals against Tartar cuisine. These are very different books . . . Both of which you should read!

Anyway, on with the match!

Emily Ballaine: Germany

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine for the win! Rosa is clearly the Carli Lloyd of this match and should be awarded a golden boot for subterfuge, force of will and outright trickery.

Germany 1 – Canada 0


Hal Hlavinka: Germany

My Europa Editions-love won this one.

Germany 2 – Canada 0


Lizzy Siddal: Germany

Adopting an attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence strategy, the German team comes out and plays with astonishing brio. Their striker, the ruthless dynamo that is Rosa Achmetowna, never lets the goal out of her sight. Canada in Jimmy the Snowman, their one man guardian of the human race, have a resilient defence in the integrity that Rosa does not possess.

But in extra-time, Snowman is tired. Crake’s victim inevitably becomes Rosa’s victim and the ball lands in the back of the Canadian net. Rosa’s sheer bloodymindedness (and younger legs) carry the day.

Germany 3 – Canada 0


Kalah McCaffrey: Germany

Germany 4 – Canada 0


Lori Feathers: Canada

As much as I loved the imperious Rosalinda and cheered on Bronsky for being the lesser known author, I just can’t get the voices of Oryx and the other Crakers out of my head. Bronsky gives us an extraordinary narrator but Atwood creates an entire world. Atwood gets my vote.

Germany 4 – Canada 1


Meredith Miller: Germany

Sticking with Germany as my pony!

Germany 5 – Canada 1


Sal Robinson: Canada

Oryx & Crake! I love Tim and I get the masterful thing that Hottest Dishes is, but I just couldn’t ever warm up to it (ha ha).

Germany 5 – Canada 2


Rhea Lyons: Germany

TARTARRRRRRR!

Germany 6 – Canada 2


Hilary Plum: Germany

In a wicked upset, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine defeats Oryx & Crake. Germany’s game is streamlined, comical, and always a little bit nasty, and it triumphs over the elaborate world-building of its opponent.

Germany 7 – Canada 2


Rachel Crawford: Canada

Atwood!

Germany 7 – Canada 3


Margaret Carson: Canada

Oryx and Crake all the way! Time for a ticker-tape parade!

Germany 7 – Canada 4


The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine wins!!!!!

Congrats to Alina Bronsky and Tim Mohr, and special thanks to all of our great judges who helped celebrate women’s literature and the world cup in a fun, interesting way.

8 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood is already set to represent Canada in the WWCOL championship, so now we’re ready to find out who she’s going to face off against between Colombia’s representative (Delirium by Laura Restrepo) or Germany’s (The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky).

Laura Restrepo’s Delirium (Colombia) got to this point by by getting past England’s Life After Life and then Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft before knocking out Costa Rica’s Assault on Paradise by the convincing score of 6-1.

Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine cruised into this semis, earning a bye after beating up on the Thailand entry, The Happiness of Kati by the score of 5-1, then taking apart Côte d’Ivoire’s Queen Pokou, 4-1.

And now . . .

Hal Hlavinka: Germany

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine wins in a cover art penalty shootout!

Germany 1 – Colombia 0


Meredith Miller: Germany

I’m picking The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, because Rosa is the type of manipulative, dirty-playing, spit-firing character you would not wish upon your worst enemy, but is so fun to explore her inner psyche as she wreaks havoc on her fictional world.

Germany 2 – Colombia 0


P.T. Smith: Colombia

With the tension and suspense spread across and between the varied narrators, Delirium continues its run to the Cup.

Germany 2 – Colombia 1


Kalah McCaffrey: Colombia

A tough call—both teams sport unhinged but powerful women and constant, unsettling action. My personal favorite is Germany, with Rosalinda carrying the team in the fashion of Lionel Messi. But as Colombia’s got more depth to the roster, they eke out the win.

Germany 2 – Colombia 2


Hilary Plum: Germany

Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine edges out Laura Restrepo’s excellent Delirium, if only because Bronsky’s cruel and indefatigable protagonist, Rosa Achmetowna, is willing to do anything to win. Both novels are very compelling, but a Women’s World Cup should maybe have a special place for a character as boldly “unlikeable” as Bronsky’s remarkable Rosa

Germany 3 – Colombia 2


Rhea Lyons: Germany

I can’t decide between Delirium and Tartar . . . Tartar is so good!! ARGH, I’ll go with that.

Germany 4 – Colombia 2


Mythili Rao: Germany

Three generations of quirky Soviet women, what’s not to love?

Germany 5 – Colombia 2


There we go! The two favorites after rounds one and two—Germany’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine and Canada’s Oryx & Crake—will face off in the first Women’s World Cup of Literature championship this Friday!

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page.

23 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Kalah McCaffrey, a Young Adult literary scout at Franklin & Siegal. You can follow her on Twitter at @moheganscout.

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page. And check back here daily!

As Ivory Coast and Germany lined up for kick-off in the second round of matches, I wasn’t sure what to expect: that powerhouse Germany had trounced underdog Thailand came as no surprise, but Côte d’Ivoire ousting stoic Norway was a nice twist. Côte d’Ivoire won the toss and first possession and their offensive attacks were wild and breathtaking, but ultimately the strategy was repetitive and short-winded, so endurance flagged. Germany’s steady, relentless advance quickly overwhelmed the defense and left the competition eating turf.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Queen Pokou showed its strengths early in the game—the rich mythology, nuance of language, and vibrant characters were instantly powerful. Queen Abraha Pokou’s tale, the origin story of the Baoule people, captivated with wild magical twists, and Pokou fulfilled the role of de facto goalkeeper/savior of her people with real chutzpah. Our heroine is born the niece of the respected king of the Ashanti Kingdom. An early outcrop of wild hair destines her for greatness, a prophecy fulfilled when her brother succeeds her uncle as king and she develops an instinct for leadership. While the king is far from home, Pokou faces an invasion by sending her people to hide in the woods while she herself remains behind to protect the weak. She gets kidnapped, but the king returns in time to rescue her, she becomes a trusted advisor to the throne, and later marries (one of many husbands) and finally gives birth to a son. Her brother king falls ill and names their half-brother his successor, but a treacherous uncle challenges his claim, so Pokou leads the loyal subjects into exile to protect them from a ruthless rash of murders. While trekking through the wilderness, faced with an impassable river and the advancing army looming behind them, the high priest instructs Pokou to sacrifice her royal-blooded infant son in order to calm the waters. She does so without hesitating, saves her people, and her cry of grief—Ba-ou-li (“the child is dead”)—becomes the name of their new community. This moment marks a goal of singular flair just before halftime, a bicycle kick that rockets the ball to the top left corner. In the second half, despite mesmerizing imagery, the story arc becomes muddled and repetitive. The defensive line interferes with its own keeper, offense keeps forfeiting possession, and chaos generally reigns. Some chapters repeat portions of the previous events but from a different angle, while others pick up at scattered points and progress in any number of directions. In one, Queen Pokou herself gives in to the river and becomes a water-dwelling goddess. In another, the tale imagines what the Baoule’s fate would have been had Pokou not sacrificed her son: instead her people stage an ambush and challenge the advancing army long enough to retreat and seek refuge in a nearby village. But in the night the army rallies and slaughters Pokou’s people and their innocent hosts. The language is undeniably rich, even decadent and visceral. The images and spontaneous magical developments are intoxicating as well, but I was left feeling bemused and dyspeptic, as if I’d overindulged in a heavy meal. And while the distilled nature of this very brief text might have proven more challenging to other opponents, Côte d’Ivoire just didn’t have the stamina to maintain pressure against Germany’s stiff, and highly entertaining, attack.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine started off with a bang and the hits just kept coming. The self-involved, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing protagonist Rosalinda charmed the referees as she bullied her way through life, a true striker through and through. Of Tartar descent and living in Russia, Rosa is determined to lead a comfortable life, and her homely, stupid daughter Sulfia and pushover husband are no match for her ambition. Rosa’s plotting carries the whole match, even through her own downfall. The first challenges she faces are when Sulfia comes home pregnant at seventeen, claiming to be a virgin. Rosa cares for the resulting granddaughter, Aminat, as her own and is pleased when the young girl grows beautiful and smart, if ill-tempered. Next up is locking down a man for Sulfia, most easily accomplished by using her daughter’s job as a nurse to gain access to men’s affections. The first conquest has a roving eye and defects quickly. The second prospect, though Jewish (to Rosa’s chagrin), proves a decent man even though he knocks Sulfia up and only agrees to marry her after Rosa orchestrates it (tie game). Just when it seems settled—Sulfia has a decent man, ugly baby Lena arrives, and Rosa keeps Aminat nearby (fortunate, since the girl goes feral any time Rosa spends much time away from her)—Sulfia’s husband announces plans to emigrate to Israel with his family. The day before they’re set to leave, Rosa tries to kill herself. When she wakes, she finds Sulfia and Aminat have stayed behind (Germany scores again, if in a dirty penalty kick; the first half closes at 2-1). Sulfia is crushed and Aminat resents Rosa, but the matriarch won’t be deterred. She finds a third husband for her daughter, and this time it’s a German (Rosa wants out of Russia and into Europe). But Dieter is a bit . . . off. He takes an outsized interest in Aminat and merely tolerates Sulfia. Dieter is, however, the ticket to Germany, and relocates all three ladies in order to keep Aminat. The teenager grows sullen, withdrawn, acne-prone. Rosa is aware of the subtext, but loves her new life and will not give it up. Sulfia goes back to Russia to settle affairs so she can marry Dieter, but she falls ill (cancer perhaps) and also gets stuck looking after her ailing father. Back in Germany, Rosa gets a job as a cleaning lady in which she takes great pride and satisfaction. With her own income she feels empowered, and learns to ride a bike, then to drive a car. She even pursues a medical career (a surprise goal from nearly mid-field!; 3-1), though her self-taught education and under-the-table medical advice get her promptly fired (yellow card). In rapid succession, Sulfia dies, Rosa begins to hallucinate her daughter’s presence, Rosa gets taken in by an odd, wealthy Englishman, Rosa’s former husband comes to Germany, a grown-up Lena appears from Israel, and Aminat runs away (second yellow card; Rosa is thrown out of the game). The final chapters show Rosa drifting listlessly through life until she discovers Aminat is a contestant on a TV competition to find star singers. Aminat wins the entire competition, bringing the final score to a thrilling 4-1.

By the second half, the outcome of the match was evident. I appreciated the matchup of the ruthlessly pragmatic heroines who will do anything—including sacrifice their children to disturbing or even tragic fates—to achieve a better life; powerful women faced with impossible circumstances they refuse to let best them. But Rosa’s colorful obstinacy and wildly implausible trajectory (without even the aid of magical realism) carry the game and thrust Germany to the top.

*

Yesterday I commented on how strong Canada looked in the competition. But then, German and Bronsky! Over two matches, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine has won by a combined score of 9-2. That’s some serious domination. This part of the bracket could come down to Atwood versus Bronsky . . . But I am getting ahead of myself.

Tomorrow’s match features Ecuador’s Beyond the Islands by Alicia Yánez Cossío up against Cameroon’s Dark Heart of the Night by Léonora Miano.

18 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Emily Ballaine from Green Apple Books in San Francisco.

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page. And check back here daily!

In a David and Goliath style match up, these two completely different novels from opposite corners of the globe went head to head in a literary grudge match of unreliable narrators performing acts of morally questionable parenting. Germany (a historic breeding ground of bullying and over-the-top sorts of characters) approached the match with an outlandish style of writing in an attempt to trick the reader into trusting a fundamentally untrustworthy narrator. Thailand, on the other hand, employed a strategy of lyrical, heartfelt prose geared for a young adult audience.
With the bookies in Vegas leaning heavily toward The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky from Germany, however, this match turned out to be closer than initially expected with The Happiness of Kati by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva from Thailand making a daring (although ultimately unsuccessful) play for the win by pulling out all the emotional stops in its tale of a girl whose mother is dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease and her search for the father she has been hidden from.

Both books deal with motherhood and more importantly the decisions mothers make for their children in surprising ways and with two mothers who could not be more different. Rosa, the hilarious and completely unreliable narrator of The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, is far from pleased when she learns that her seventeen year-old daughter, “stupid Sulfia,” is pregnant. Rosa does everything in her power to terminate the pregnancy, but when her efforts prove to be unsuccessful and Aminat is born nine months later, Rosa is surprised to find that she is filled with a deep well of love and affection for the little girl, so much so that she comes to believe that she could do a far better job of raising the child than “stupid Sulfia.”

This idea that mothers somehow inherently know what is best for their children is a theme that both books tackle in different ways. By the end of Hottest Dishes it becomes clear that Rosa has not only ruined Sulfia’s life, but also her beloved granddaughter Aminat’s life through her selfishness and cruelty. The mother in The Happiness of Kati on the other hand, though clearly wrong in her decision to hide Kati’s father from her, feels like a more morally redeemable character—unlike Rosa her actions do not stem from selfishness but rather a desire to protect her daughter from pain. With that said though Rosa is just a far more interesting character (as “bad” characters tend to be).

What really makes this a David and Goliath match up (although is it still correct/fair to call something a David and Goliath match up when Goliath wins?) is that The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is written for adults while The Happiness of Kati is written for young adults. There are many valid points on both sides of the should-adults-read-YA-argument, but the crux of the matter in this particular match up is that it is just inherently unfair to pit a YA book against a novel written for adults. While a touching story, The Happiness of Kati is nowhere near as sophisticated in structure or style as The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine and lacks the biting cynicism of Hottest Dishes’ lovably horrible narrator.

The larger takeaway from this match up was an angry call to arms over the sad deficit of books in translation from female Thai writers. With the match still tied after halftime, the crowd began to cheer, More Thai Literature! More Thai Literature! With typical German efficiency, however, the Germans ignored the clamor for the other team and scored four goals in quick succession, dispatching the Thai team with a final score of 5 – 1.

*

With that, Germany’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine moves on to ace Côte d’Ivoire’s Queen Pokou on Tuesday, June 23rd, in what promises to be a tight match.

Tomorrow’s match—the last one of Round One—will be judged by M. Lynx Quarley and features Japan’s Revenge by Yoko Ogawa up against Ecuador’s Assault on Paradise by Tatiana Lobo.

1 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Adelaide Kuehn on Alina Bronsky’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, which is translated from the German by Tim Mohr and available from Europa Editions.

Adelaide is a former intern and translation student, who has written for Three Percent a couple times in the past.

We ran a review a very positive review of Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park back in the day, and I’m really glad we’re finally able to post something on her new book.

Also worth noting that The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the 100th book published by Europa Editions—a pretty amazing accomplishment, especially since it seems like just yesterday that they were launching their operation . . . Ah, time . . . Europa’s month long celebration is technically over, but you can read about the festivities here.

On to the review:

“Sulfia wasn’t very gifted. In fact, to be honest, I’d say she was rather stupid. And yet somehow she was my daughter—worse still, my only daughter.”

As her seventeen-year-old daughter sobs on a kitchen stool after confessing she is pregnant with an unknown man’s child, all Rosa can think about is how stupid, pathetic and unfortunate looking her only offspring is at that moment. After overcoming this disgust for her own child, Rosa feels sorry for the girl and takes action. Scalding mustard seed baths, concoctions made of cranberry and stewed laurel leaves and a knitting needle inserted into the abdomen make Sulfia violently ill but fail to take care of her problem. Several months later, Sulfia gives birth to a baby girl named Aminat.

Alina Bronsky’s novel, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, is the story of a lifetime of manipulations by a mostly, but not always, well-wishing mother. Rosa, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, controls, manipulates and judges everyone around her to get what she wants. She is frustrated by the lazy ineptitude of her daughter and does her best to insure that her grand-daughter does not end up the same way. Rosa believes that her grand-daughter Aminat has escaped her daughter’s bad genes and is on a mission to turn her into the beautiful, intelligent, well-mannered daughter she never had. Rosa takes over full control of the child and goes to great lengths to keep her away from Sulfia’s bad influence.

Rosa believes herself to be a superior being and makes that clear to everyone around her. With psychological domination and a little bribery, Rosa can accomplish anything. Rosa has an unfailing belief in her own actions, appearance, and ability to get people to do what she wants. And to her credit, Rosa almost always gets what she wants regardless of the repercussions for her loved ones. Rosa arranges, and eventually sabotages Sulfia’s three marriages, kidnaps Aminat and sends away Lina, Sulfia’s second daughter and regularly berates Sulfia with criticism about everything from her sloppy appearance to her failings as a mother.

This novel would be supremely depressing if it was not told with Rosa’s hilarious narrative voice. Alina Bronsky brilliantly conveys Rosa’s arrogance and vanity by allowing the reader to experience her thoughts and observations as she moves through the world wreaking havoc.

Read the full review by clicking here.

1 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

“Sulfia wasn’t very gifted. In fact, to be honest, I’d say she was rather stupid. And yet somehow she was my daughter—worse still, my only daughter.”

As her seventeen-year-old daughter sobs on a kitchen stool after confessing she is pregnant with an unknown man’s child, all Rosa can think about is how stupid, pathetic and unfortunate looking her only offspring is at that moment. After overcoming this disgust for her own child, Rosa feels sorry for the girl and takes action. Scalding mustard seed baths, concoctions made of cranberry and stewed laurel leaves and a knitting needle inserted into the abdomen make Sulfia violently ill but fail to take care of her problem. Several months later, Sulfia gives birth to a baby girl named Aminat.

Alina Bronsky’s novel, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, is the story of a lifetime of manipulations by a mostly, but not always, well-wishing mother. Rosa, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, controls, manipulates and judges everyone around her to get what she wants. She is frustrated by the lazy ineptitude of her daughter and does her best to insure that her grand-daughter does not end up the same way. Rosa believes that her grand-daughter Aminat has escaped her daughter’s bad genes and is on a mission to turn her into the beautiful, intelligent, well-mannered daughter she never had. Rosa takes over full control of the child and goes to great lengths to keep her away from Sulfia’s bad influence.

Rosa believes herself to be a superior being and makes that clear to everyone around her. With psychological domination and a little bribery, Rosa can accomplish anything. Rosa has an unfailing belief in her own actions, appearance, and ability to get people to do what she wants. And to her credit, Rosa almost always gets what she wants regardless of the repercussions for her loved ones. Rosa arranges, and eventually sabotages Sulfia’s three marriages, kidnaps Aminat and sends away Lina, Sulfia’s second daughter and regularly berates Sulfia with criticism about everything from her sloppy appearance to her failings as a mother.

This novel would be supremely depressing if it was not told with Rosa’s hilarious narrative voice. Alina Bronsky brilliantly conveys Rosa’s arrogance and vanity by allowing the reader to experience her thoughts and observations as she moves through the world wreaking havoc. For example, Rosa often congratulates herself for her good looks and impeccable fashion sense:

My son-in-law liked me. It was understandable. I was a handsome woman. In my late forties I still looked as if I were in my mid-thirties at most. My skin was firm and radiant, and I made myself up every morning before I went anywhere—even if it was just to the kitchen. I wore only red and black. I could pull it off.

Rosa’s interactions with her husband Kalganov are also highly amusing. She tolerates him because he has a respectable job working for the government but when he leaves for another woman, Rosa is quite pleased. He still sometimes hangs around the apartment and looks up at Rosa:

Kalganov was good at that: ruining my mood. His presence could cast a shadow over any otherwise splendid moment. The spring day was beginning to fade. The wind no longer felt caressing, but rather treacherous. I closed the window and drew the curtain.

Rosa is happy to be rid of Kalganov because she does not have to carry so many groceries up to the apartment and can feign sadness to get sympathy from Sulfia. Whatever happens, Rosa makes it work to her advantage.

The novel takes place over eighteen years, beginning in 1978 when Aminat is born. The first twelve years are set in Soviet Russia, but when food, water and other goods become scarce, Rosa must formulate a plan to get her family to Germany. The Soviet regime is portrayed in the novel through Rosa’s dealings with hospitals, schools and housing services, all of which rely heavily on bribery and subtle flirting. Rosa eventually cashes in on a German cookbook writer’s inappropriate attraction to a teenage Aminat but convinces the naïve Sulfia that he is really in love with her. With the sponsorship of the German writer, Rosa gets government approval, visas and plane tickets to Germany in hopes of saving her family. While Rosa happily takes advantage of new opportunities in Germany, her family crumbles around her. The tragic ending of the novel is a result of everyone being pushed to, and for some well past, the brink of insanity by the wheeling and dealings of Rosa.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is Alina Bronsky’s second novel released by Europa Editions and translated by Tim Mohr. Bronksy’s first novel, Broken Glass Park, was nominated for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine received a nomination for the 2010 German Book Prize. The German translation skillfully conveys the humor in the tenuous mother-daughter relationship, as well as the unfortunate irony of Rosa’s attempts at family betterment.

6 October 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Catherine Bailey on Alina Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park, which was published by Europa Editions in Tim Mohr’s translation.

Catherine Bailey is a new reviewer for us—she’s a writer, artist, and activist from Seattle, WA who is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in English and a Graduate Certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Rochester. (Hence the connection.) And based on this, I’m hoping she can find some time to write a few more reviews for us . . .

Bronsky is an interesting figure. She was at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, and her latest book was on the longlist for this year’s German Book Prize. (And I believe is forthcoming from Europa Editions.)

Here’s the opening of the review:

“Sometimes I think I’m the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother.”

So begins Broken Glass Park, the achingly beautiful debut novel by Russian-born Alina Bronsky (a pseudonym). This casual treatment of deeply harbored aggressive fantasies is characteristic of Bronsky’s central protagonist, seventeen-year-old Sascha Naimann, whose thinly veneered emotional turbulence reflects the collective restlessness of the inner city housing “projects” in which the story unfolds, and in which Bronsky herself lived for a time. Like Sascha, Bronsky emigrated from Russia to Germany during early adolescence and experienced the life ascribed to those residing in a small, peripheral community suffering from economic disadvantage, cultural displacement, and linguistic marginalization. But while Bronsky’s family found its way out of the projects, the Naimanns remain, resulting in tragic consequences that span generations.

The source of Sascha’s venomous hatred for Vadim is swiftly revealed: an abusive figure from the start, he murdered her mother one night in a fit of rage before the very eyes of Sascha and her two younger half-siblings. The novel opens approximately two years after the slaughter, and though Vadim is behind bars for his insidious crime, the horror of this loss is no less fresh—nor forgivable—in the mind of the protagonist, who also serves as the narrator. As Sascha’s inner monologue winds its way, somewhat disjointedly, through reminiscences of the days before her mother’s death, the profound intellectual rigor and thoughtful, psychological gravity to which the young woman was predisposed become apparent; yet, simultaneously, so does the fact that she has since devoted these energies toward the singular objective of her stepfather’s demise, for which she waits with an infinite and calculating patience. Sascha’s roiling detestation of Vadim and consequently, of all men, is kept in check only by the layer of pointed apathy with which she meets the rest of life. At one point Sascha muses, “A Russian children’s poem comes to mind: ‘My nerves are made of steel, no, actually, I don’t have any at all.’ It’s like it was written about me. I don’t have any.” She is as a walking corpse, disdainful of the petty tribulations saddling the people in her life, kept alive only by her ardent desire to bring death to her stepfather and a symbolic resurrection to her mother through the immortal act of writing.

Click here to read the full review.

6 October 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

“Sometimes I think I’m the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother.”

So begins Broken Glass Park, the achingly beautiful debut novel by Russian-born Alina Bronsky (a pseudonym). This casual treatment of deeply harbored aggressive fantasies is characteristic of Bronsky’s central protagonist, seventeen-year-old Sascha Naimann, whose thinly veneered emotional turbulence reflects the collective restlessness of the inner city housing “projects” in which the story unfolds, and in which Bronsky herself lived for a time. Like Sascha, Bronsky emigrated from Russia to Germany during early adolescence and experienced the life ascribed to those residing in a small, peripheral community suffering from economic disadvantage, cultural displacement, and linguistic marginalization. But while Bronsky’s family found its way out of the projects, the Naimanns remain, resulting in tragic consequences that span generations.

The source of Sascha’s venomous hatred for Vadim is swiftly revealed: an abusive figure from the start, he murdered her mother one night in a fit of rage before the very eyes of Sascha and her two younger half-siblings. The novel opens approximately two years after the slaughter, and though Vadim is behind bars for his insidious crime, the horror of this loss is no less fresh—nor forgivable—in the mind of the protagonist, who also serves as the narrator. As Sascha’s inner monologue winds its way, somewhat disjointedly, through reminiscences of the days before her mother’s death, the profound intellectual rigor and thoughtful, psychological gravity to which the young woman was predisposed become apparent; yet, simultaneously, so does the fact that she has since devoted these energies toward the singular objective of her stepfather’s demise, for which she waits with an infinite and calculating patience. Sascha’s roiling detestation of Vadim and consequently, of all men, is kept in check only by the layer of pointed apathy with which she meets the rest of life. At one point Sascha muses, “A Russian children’s poem comes to mind: ‘My nerves are made of steel, no, actually, I don’t have any at all.’ It’s like it was written about me. I don’t have any.” She is as a walking corpse, disdainful of the petty tribulations saddling the people in her life, kept alive only by her ardent desire to bring death to her stepfather and a symbolic resurrection to her mother through the immortal act of writing.

And yet, as the text carries on, we see that this is not so. Unbeknownst to Sascha, she is, in fact, a caring sister, a dedicated (if outwardly exasperated) friend, and a wellspring of sensual emotion. Through a fortuitously placed newspaper article, Sascha encounters Volker Trebur, the mysteriously alluring city section editor, and his son Felix. A complicated web of relationships develops between the three, revealing nuances of Sascha’s tenderness even as it demonstrates the extent of the damage done to her ability to give and receive love by the trauma she has sustained. Ultimately a character study, Broken Glass Park offers a poignant and telling portrait of the human condition through Sascha: she is furious, she is helpless; at times she is downright ugly, yet her compassion delivers others from pain. She is broken, and in struggling to repair herself, she often does nothing but widen the cracks in the pane of her fragile existence. Bronsky’s gift for subtle characterization makes Sascha a sympathetic, frustrating, and compellingly imperfect heroine.

Interestingly, Broken Glass Park is not composed of individual chapters; rather, it flows continuously. This stylistic choice greatly enhances the content of the novel, given that Sascha’s thoughts and perceptions are expressed in the present tense. The uninterrupted flow of the text allows for a seamless blending of the protagonist’s immediate moods and sensations with her tangential, introspective narration of actual past and imagined future. Reading Broken Glass Park is, at times, much like listening to someone think aloud—the free association so structurally important to the character’s voice leads to revelations far more significant than any dialogue would provide (though on the occasions in which it arises, Bronsky’s dialogue is solid). Moreover, the unceasing progression of the plot as told through Sascha’s eyes lends thrust to the ubiquitous sense of agitated ennui that permeates her fractured urban community. Its inhabitants are desperate for their various reasons, but escape seems distant if plausible at all. The droning of the narrator’s voice invites readers to participate, if only vicariously, in the relentless aimlessness of a journey devoid of destination—a phenomenon felt on a societal level by the impoverished immigrants of the projects, and on a personal level by Sascha’s cavernous depression. The text does not blink, so to speak, and the device is potent. There is no relieving respite from the imposition of the next heavy thought, the next unpleasant memory. There is nothing to do, in light of Sascha’s tragedy, and in light of the many unsung episodes of the troubled population around her, but to continue.

Among the novel’s most engaging themes is Sascha’s relationship with the polarities of her own emotional development. Though she condemns her mother’s gentle nature as the source of her downfall and swears to despise all men, Sascha finds herself drawn into various avenues of romantic and sexual experimentation. In her approach to these predominantly bumbling attempts at connection, she is at once mature beyond her years and alarmingly naïve. Likewise, her efforts to harden her heart for the task of exacting revenge on Vadim are counteracted by her role as a nurturing maternal figure to her young siblings and even her legal guardian, who is in many ways a child. By sending Sascha swinging, pendulum-like, between the forces of self-desecration and self-preservation, Bronsky implies that there are no absolute paths to personal fulfillment. In illustrating this tension throughout the entirety of her work, the author has given us a noteworthy body of ideas to contemplate long after the final page is turned.

Broken Glass Park, released by Europa Editions and translated by Tim Mohr, is a captivating and unsettling read. It was recently nominated for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, a distinguished award in Europe, and with its delicate treatment of the existential complexities surrounding the perpetuation of violence and the salvation of acceptance, it is likely to garner much more critical acclaim.

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