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Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing    by Anya Von Bremzen Amazon.com order for
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking
by Anya Von Bremzen
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I opened what I thought would be a cookbook for learning how to cook as it would be done in the Soviet Union. I know. I know. There is no longer a Soviet Union but the memories cannot be erased.

This is what author and recognized chef Anya Von Bremzen has done in her new cookbook Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. She digs into her memory and shares with us the meals and certain dishes she remembers from her childhood and beyond. Not only, though, are we graced with recipes (at the end of the book) but the author also shares the political feel of the times. We go through Stalin, Lenin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Putin (not necessarily in that order) and how each of them affected the Soviet diet.

Each of these leaders severely affected the food supply. It was nothing to spend hours in a line to purchase one loaf of inferior bread. Citizens died of hunger. A poor grade of champagne though was always available. As was black caviar, a staple for snacks. I could go on and on about the outrages heaped on the Russian people. But that book has already been written.

Von Bremzen reveals her black-marketeering of Juicy Fruit chewing gum at school at the age of ten! Food was more often than not in poor supply. A banana was a once-a-year treat! And eighteen families used the one kitchen in the tenement in which they lived. She speaks of joyous times but also of her mother who was an anti-Soviet dissenter and who couldn't live any longer under Soviet rule. Anya and her mother fled to the USA first to Philadelphia and then to New York. Now she tells of cooking through 'seven decades of the Soviet experience'.

I found it difficult to keep the Russian names in the book clear in my mind. And I think that some of the ingredients used in the Russian dishes might be hard to find in the USA. I found the opening chapters a bit bewildering. I lost the thread of the content. This book did bring back to me my thoughts of the devastation an outright dictator can thrust upon his own country. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is Russia's diary.

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