Category Archives: culture

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

With a title that sounds strangely more like a cookbook, Alina Bronsky’s second book is full of surprises, (and not recipes.)

I loved Alina’s first novel, Broken Glass Park, and her second book was not disappointing in the least. Ms. Bronsky stayed true to her unique voice and detailed observations by creating yet another world full of believable characters. The undependable narrator of Tartar Cuisine is especially fun as you are forced to go back and forth between loving and hating her. The story contains a lot of subtle humor and remains interesting page after page.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble) :

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.

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Running Around (and such)

Linda Byler writes with authenticity about the Amish in “Running Around (and such)”, because she herself is Amish! This coming of age story takes place in Pennsylvania and is the first in a series. If Amish culture interests you, this is one to pick up! (Bonus authentic recipes and glossary at the back!)

Book Description:

“It isn’t that Lizzie doesn’t want to stay Amish. It’s just that there is so much to figure out.

Like why can’t she let her hair a little looser on top?

And why can’t she wear shoes with a little bit more of a heel?

And will she ever really just know for a fact who she is going to marry like her next-older sister, Emma, does?

And how does it happen that her just-younger sister, Mandy, is going on a date before Lizzie ever has a real one?

So does it matter at all if she eats one more whoopie pie? Amos seems to like her a lot when she pounds out the ping-pong games. He even asks her to be his partner in doubles. But then he asks Ruthie if he can take her home!

It has been this way Lizzie’s whole life.

She has too hot a temper. She hates housework and dislikes babies. She loves driving fast horses but is petrified of going away from home for a week to work as a maud (maid).

Now that Lizzie is running around, will she scare off the Amish boys with her hi-jinks manners?

She has certainly attracted the attention of the egg-truck driver. A scary thrill runs through her every time the worldly man comes to pick up an order, each time extending his stay a little longer. How long will she keep this a secret from Emma-and from Mamm and Datt?

What will become of Lizzie? Is she too spirited, too innocent, and almost too uninhibited for a young Amish woman?”

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The Classics (Reader’s Digest Collection)

I love these Reader’s Digest books! The latest one, “The Classics: All You Need to Know, from Zeus’s Throne to the Fall of Rome”, is by Caroline Taggert, the same author of “I Used To Know That”, also in the Reader’s Digest series.

This one does not disappoint. The quality is in keeping with the rest of the collection, from the book’s design to its content.

Like “Cliff Notes”, this book tells you everything you need to know in an easy to read format. Sections of the book include: Classical Languages, Religion and Mythology, Ancient Greek History, Roman History, Classical Literature, Architecture and Art, Math, Science and Inventions, and more.

Some of my favorite sections included: Translations of common Latin phrases, short profiles of Greek gods, and the history of the Olympics.

Conclusion: Another great book from Reader’s Digest and worth adding to your bookshelf!

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Broken Glass Park

Alina Bronsky, like her character 17 year old Sascha Naimann, is a Russian immigrant who moved to Germany. Broken Glass Park is Bronsky’s first novel, (English version translated by Tim Mohr), and was nominated for one of Europe’s most prestigious literary awards, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.

The main character, Sascha, starts out by telling us she has two goals in life. The first is to write a book about her mother, and the second is to kill Vadim, her incarcerated step-father who brutally murdered her mother in front of her and her younger siblings. Despite this intriguing piece of information, the book started off slow for me but really picked up the pace as the story unraveled. Even when the plot wasn’t moving as fast as I’d have liked, the writing was strong throughout with many unique metaphors and well developed characters. Sascha in particular is an especially memorable character; intelligent, witty, deep thinking, rebellious and angry as teenage years demand, yet responsible as a result of her circumstances. Broken Glass Park is a unique coming-of-age story which touches on the immigrant experience, domestic violence, poverty, and how the choices we make in life determine our destiny.

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The Lunatic Express (interview)

I’m reading a book right now called The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman. This video is an interview with the author and is just so, so interesting and touching that I had to share it ahead of my review. The review will be coming up in a future post!

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The Power of Half

This is the inspiring true story of a teenage girl who encouraged her family to sell their home and give half away to charity. The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen causes readers to ask themselves how to make a difference in the world by giving more and taking less.

Here is an article by the authors which I have been authorized to share with you.

Hannah’s Take: Believe You Can Make a Difference
by Kevin and Hannah Salwen,
Authors of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

About 111 women die of breast cancer every day in the United States. A million teenagers get pregnant each year. Someone dies every thirty-one minutes because of drunken drivers. I’m not writing this to bum you out. But you might be thinking, There are so many problems, there’s no way that I or any one person could solve anything.

When civil-rights activist Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a public bus in 1955, she never dreamed of the impact she would have on millions of lives. “I didn’t have any idea just what my actions would bring about,” she said years later. “At the time I was arrested I didn’t know how the community would react.” The reason Ms. Parks didn’t get up is that she knew the racist laws were wrong.

Rosa Parks is just one of the thousands of influential people whose actions changed the views of many people today. Think about Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Greg Mortenson, John Woolman, Madame Curie (if you don’t know them, check them out; they’re all remarkable). Sometimes small acts significantly affect a large group of people. But even when they don’t, they can have a big influence, maybe on just one individual.

So don’t get discouraged because you can’t solve a whole problem alone. As the British philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I know exactly what he was talking about. Before our family project I kept telling myself that no matter how hard I tried or how much money I gave, I would never be able to fully solve any of the world’s big problems. When I worked at Café 458, the Atlanta restaurant for homeless men and women, I saw dozens of people come in looking depressed and lonely. But still I didn’t see them as individuals, but instead as a group, “the homeless.”

Then one day at Café 458 I heard two homeless men talking about a college basketball game that I had watched with my dad the night before. I snapped to the realization that these people are people. How stupid and rude I had been to see them as different from me. I realize now that having that epiphany was a big step for me. In that split second of comprehension, I switched from seeing them as a group of people to viewing them as individuals. When I started seeing people in need as individuals, the problem of homelessness and hunger seemed smaller and I felt like I could make more of a difference. I also started believing that I could help because the problem was on a personal level.

Activity

Think of a person from your community who inspires you. Look beyond his or her specific actions to the kind of qualities that person brings to work or volunteer activities. For example, some people are better at creating new programs than at actually putting them into action; other people are doers, ready to take someone else’s ideas and run with them. Is that aunt in your family a problem-solver? A good listener? An inspirer?

Now think about your strengths in the same light. If you took your best characteristics out into the world, how could you use them to make a difference? Are you patient? Maybe you would be a good tutor. Are you musical? Maybe you could be playing the guitar at a nursing home (and bringing your family along to sing — no talent required). We all have gifts the world can use.
The above is an excerpt from the book The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Kevin and Hannah Salwen. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2010 Kevin and Hannah Salwen, authors of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

Author Bios
Kevin Salwen, coauthor of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, was reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal for over 18 years. After his tenure at The Wall Street Journal, he started a magazine, Motto. He serves on the board for Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta, and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Hannah Salwen, coauthor of The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, will be a junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School, where she plays for the varsity volleyball team, and is her grade’s representative to the student council. She has been volunteering consistently since the 5th grade at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Cafe 458, among others.

For more information, please visit www.ThePowerOfHalf.com.

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The Groom To Have Been

The Groom to Have Been by Saher Alam

Back of the book:

Just as Nasr, a young man with a vibrant professional and social life in New York, begins to prepare for the arranged marriage he hopes will appease his Indian Muslim family and assure him a union as happy as his parents’, he starts to suspect that his true love has been within his reach his entire life. Nasr has known Jameela since they were children, and for nearly that long she has flouted the traditions her community holds dear. But now the rebellion that always made her seem dangerous suddenly makes him wonder if she might be his perfect match. Feeling increasingly trapped as his wedding date approaches, Nasr contemplates a drastic escape, but in the wake of 9/11, new fears and old prejudices threaten to stand between him and the promise of happiness. Current in its political themes and classic in its treatment of doomed love, The Groom to Have Been is a graceful and emotionally charged debut.

I loved this book. It was hard to put down and unpredictable to the last page. The characters were incredibly well-rounded, the imagery fantastic, and important observations on race, religion and tradition were woven into the fabric of the plot seamlessly. This would make an excellent book club selection for the discussion it would surely encourage.

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