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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing | [Anya Von Bremzen]

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and her mother, Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience - turning Larisa’s kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories". Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous.
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Audible Editor Reviews

"A delicious, intelligent book. When I read it, I can taste the food but also the melancholy, tragedy, and absurdity that went into every bit of pastry and borscht." (Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story)

Publisher's Summary

A James Beard Award-winning writer captures life under the Red socialist banner in this wildly inventive, tragicomic memoir of feasts, famines, and three generations

With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR - a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.

Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where 18 families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy - and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was 10, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.

Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience - turning Larisa’s kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories". Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous, featuring a decadent fish pie from the pages of Chekhov, chanakhi (Stalin’s favorite Georgian stew), blini, and more.

Through these meals, Anya tells the gripping story of three Soviet generations - masterfully capturing the strange mix of idealism, cynicism, longing, and terror that defined Soviet life. The stories unfold against the vast panorama of Soviet history: Lenin’s bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin’s table manners, Khrushchev’s kitchen debates, Gorbachev’s disastrous anti-alcohol policies. And, ultimately, the collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya’s passionate nostalgia, sly humor, and piercing observations.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is that rare book that stirs our souls and our senses.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.


©2013 Anya Von Bremzen (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"The funniest and truest book I've read about Russia in years. Ms. von Bremzen had the brilliant idea of transporting us back to the Soviet era of her youth by way of its hilarious, soulful, mayonnaise-laden, doctrinally-approved cuisine. This is both an important book and a delight." (Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains and Travels in Siberia)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (28 )
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4.0 (23 )
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3.9 (25 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Vince San Francisco, CA, United States 12-05-13
    Vince San Francisco, CA, United States 12-05-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderful Book, Excellent Performance"
    Would you listen to Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking again? Why?

    Again? Weird question. It's a fantastic book though. Engrossing memoir of a Soviet childhood told in an interesting way.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking?

    Hey, how about you just let me write a review instead of asking dumb questions?


    What about Kathleen Gati’s performance did you like?

    She didn't over act and she did all the accents beautifully. I only noticed her in a positive way.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Sure. Hey, Audible, these questions are dumb. A lawyer would object to them as leading, and they'd never hold up.


    Any additional comments?

    I am the walrus, coo coo ka-choo.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary 11-23-13
    Mary 11-23-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    2
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    "Does Pronunciation Matter?"
    Any additional comments?

    Very good, very sad book. Kathleen Gati has a warm voice and reads smoothly, but makes no attempt at getting Russian pronunciations right. People, places and Russian words range from slightly off to laughably wrong. Why do audiobook producers believe that one East European accent is the same as another? I'd have enjoyed it more with a Russian-speaking reader.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 10-08-13
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 10-08-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Captivating look at the USSR"
    Where does Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Very high. One of the best autobiographhies, surely. The choice of food as a look into Soviet life was both brilliant and tragic, and Anya's self-realization, even as a young child, is portrayed with all its pain and glory.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking?

    When Anya's family emigrated to the USA, and she went to an American supermarket for the first time. I was struck by the idea that (paraphrasing) there was no meaning behind the food, you could just get what you wanted when you wanted it, and how she longed for the intimate meaning of the foods she enjoyed in the USSR, even though it would mean waiting hours in line for it if you could get it at all.


    What about Kathleen Gati’s performance did you like?

    All of it! She was an incredible narrator choice; I will definitely check out more of her performances!


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Both!


    Any additional comments?

    READ THIS BOOK! If you're interested in Soviet history, food, or simply the coming of age bio, this book will appeal to you.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer TALLAHASSEE, FL, United States 03-31-14
    Amazon Customer TALLAHASSEE, FL, United States 03-31-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Russian political history with great recipes"

    I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't quite what I had expected. There are descriptions of Russian food, cooking, and recipes, but that only accounts for about 25% of the book. The rest is devoted to the author's experience of Russian political history and how that influenced her view on the world around her and in particular, on food.

    The narrator, Kathleen Gati, was simply marvelous. She could not have done a better job. I really enjoyed her accent, and I felt that her soothing voice brought the material to life. This is a book I probably would not have read in print version, and if I had, I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much.

    The author and her family are Russian Jewish immigrants to America and the story of their life and subsequent immigration is captured so beautifully that you feel yourself in the middle of Russia with them. While there are some frightening parts to the book, I don't recall anything particularly gory. The only objection that I have is that there is unnecessary foul language. It is few and far between, but it takes a lot away from the book, which is why I took away a couple of Overall stars.

    In general, if you are interested in Russian political history or Russian cooking, this is a good book for you. Don't overlook the PDF that comes with it that contains various Russian recipes that were mentioned in the book. If you're really interested in the recipes, the PDF is worth the cost of the credit to purchase the audiobook.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joann MAMARONECK, NY, United States 01-15-14
    Joann MAMARONECK, NY, United States 01-15-14 Member Since 2012
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    "LOVE THIS BOOK!"
    Where does Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I was fascinated by the details describe by Anya Von Bremzen in which the Soviet people had to live. After a recent visit to Russia this summer I became more and more interested in the story of the people of todays Russian and yesterday's USSR.
    The story is funny and sad and shocking at times. Truly moving.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    no I listened to slowly actually and often times relistened to get all of the details.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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