It hurts to join characters suffering through the immigration process, but worth it, once, for the insights into modern Soviet Jewish feelings and attitudes.
This is a story about refugees in the modern world - not in danger, not wanting for food or shelter, but truly lost, and inventorying their values for direction as they try to find their place in the world, literally and metaphorically; here their refugee status a painful externalization of their inner lostness. The narrator counters the universalism of this quest, and the particulars of each character, by having each character speak in the same generic Jewish-Russian lilt, as though this were one long Jewish joke.
The old Communists, immensely sympathetic as they lose faith in a system they worshipped, realize they were dupes thinking themselves skeptics, and wonder how to can go on and be useful in this new world; and the young, trying to find their own place.
Bezmozgis is a fine portratist, depicting people in their contexts.
Davies has done brilliant work in the past, and relishes in debunking complacent opinion. Here, instead, he has written a history for BBC TV. Britain emerges Great, triumphant, only improved by its travails. All the imperial losses - US independence, the millions dead in the partition of India, Soros (alternately "an American" and then "a Hungarian") breaking the Bank of England) are attributed to individuals' errors, none of these catastrophes sprung from social forces, economics, the national arrogance, etc.
Half the book is the standard monarchical history of who begat and supplanted whom, alternating England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to show their equivalence, but there is no sense of why and next to nothing in the way of geographical, geological, economic explanation of developments, nor any other explaining. The royal ties to Europe are cited repeatedly, with little mention of European machinations in Britain beyond the invasion attempts.
Speaking for the new British everyman, now worldly enough to enjoy Indian food, European beaches, and the Irish, Davies even brings Princess Di onstage, to warn the royals that their high-handedness will not be tolerated, in the name of the people.
foreign words pronounced without ironic pause
Read Davies' wonderful history of Europe, instead
A pleasant car listen, very relaxing. The food is succulent, but the descriptions of Imperial cuisine, its philosophy, symbolic load, referents, etc. showed I’d never want to eat this stuff or learn the 3000 years of Chinese social/political/literary history necessary to appreciate it. Consider, for example, cooking down 30 crabs (and their shells), and absorbing the puree into tofu, just so it can masquerade as a humble dish and surprise jaded diners. All in all, a great explanation of the Imperial approach to food - and thereby a justification of the Chinese revolution and the revival of antiquarian interest in this genre of historical cookery.
Much better as food/philosophy than as shallow romance. The American narrator protagonist is a clueless space cadet who can do nothing but gush admiration for her man's achievement and for an uncomprehended culture. The man, an appealing sensitive Chinese-American chef who is determined to be traditional Chinese, nonetheless spurns Chinese women, as though only a Westerner will do... In the end, is there any more reason to accept these prejudicial stereotypes in romance novels, than in mystery novels, etc? As always, stereotypes testify to the author's limitations, but it is saddening to see these propagated.
The intertwined lines unfolding the plot are a great technical achievement. Most impressive, though, is the seamless integration of food, history, and attitudes. I hope the author will serve out more of this from the regional cuisines of China, where she’s lived for close to two decades. I am hungry for more of her cooking.
An interesting account of social rituals and the invasions of government into rural life in the 1790's, nearly ruined by the worst reader who has ever massacred a book. Does he pause after every four words hallucinating nonexistent commas, or is he short-winded? Does he accent the wrong words in every sentence because he is reading the text for the first time? The mispronounciations are the least of his sins. This would be a charming comedy of up-country manners, frontier politics, and Revolution-era diction, but the tour is made painful by the halting, spavined nag we are forced to ride. The book is worth the time if you're interested in American history or the old age of Natty and Chingatchcook - but find a version read by anybody else.
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