A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blac...moreOriginal review post at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blackly humorous, told by a narrator who is definitely misguided and “unreliable”.
About: Set in Russia in the 1970s, The Hottest Dishes is told in the first person by the self-centered Rosa. It starts with Rosa’s daughter Sulfia becoming pregnant in her early teens and not willing to disclose who the father is. Understandably Rosa is not delighted with the situation, but claims her “troublesome” granddaughter Animat as her own and attempts to mold her into an image of what she believes a child and a Tartar should be (Tartars are descendants of Genghis Khan or “mountain people”).
As the reader is lead though the changes, deaths, and difficulties during the deterioration and dissolution of the Soviet Union (most historical details are easy to miss due to the extensive family drama), the tale culminates in a family visa finagled through some twisted means by Rosa from a German native who is researching Tartar Cuisine.
My Thoughts: Rosa is an intriguing character who is definitively an unreliable narrator, possessing a vision of herself that is unreasonably high. She navigates her life with a positive flair that ignores the perspectives and feelings of her family, creating situations which are painful and heartbreakingly sad. All the while she downplays the difficult reality in her world and country, which is more than a bit askew. Although her ability to get by in a harsh world is at times mildly admirable, in the end I was left asking myself the questions: How far would you go to get by or survive? What would you be willing to sacrifice for a chance at a better life for yourself and your family?
This is a short novel but one which I would consider a “chewy” read; it took me some time to finish due to its denseness. The text was not difficult, and the translation is excellent, but due to Rosa’s complexities and the unusual family dynamic she inadvertently creates it took a bit longer than normal. I had to stop to digest what it was about Rosa that I empathized with and what it was that I had a hard time understanding, and why her horrific opinions were in fact humorous. In the end I decided that at her best she is an extremely misguided “mother hen”. But as the adage goes “when does the means justify the end result”?
In conclusion I think that the story can be seen as dark fable for those who “do way too much”, providing lessons on what not to do even though one may think they know what is the best for everyone. Rated at 3.5 stars I enjoyed this translated story, and recommend it for readers who like literary fiction, unusual and complex characters, black humor, or those who would like a lot to think about. This is another book which would be perfect for a discussion group, as there could be so much to talk about. (less)
4.5 stars actually. Original review with additional historical bits at Layers of Thought.
A poetic page turning historical début with an unusual and pre...more4.5 stars actually. Original review with additional historical bits at Layers of Thought.
A poetic page turning historical début with an unusual and precocious young girl as the main character. All set in an exotic, magical, yet politically volatile country and time.
About: When Eleanor Cohen is born there are auspicious signs that she is not your normal child. She is to be a prodigy with gifts of memory, languages, extreme intelligence and something which is just a tad mystical. Set in the late 1800s in what is now Turkey, 8 year old Eleanor finds herself in Stamboul within the struggling Ottoman empire, after a decision to follow her father. As the fates conspire she is linked to the king - Sultan Abdulhamid II - and becomes his adviser for a short time during the ill fated years of his declining empire.
Thoughts: This was such a lovely read with my very favorite type of female character, one who is strong, brave and kind. Yet Eleanor is also beyond brilliant. Endearingly she makes a few girlish decisions creating a wonderfully realistic and exceedingly likeable character.
As a historical fiction novel, it is light enough to appeal to those who are not so historically inclined (like myself). I would even recommend the book to young adult readers due to its wonderful character and easy to read lyrical writing style. For those that enjoy history, also mentioned are classic texts which are significant to the political choices made within the novel, making it of particular interest.
As Lukas’s first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul is complex yet easy to read. His descriptions are sensual but there is no sex in this story, and many volatile elements are just alluded to. This combination gives the novel a very strong appeal -it’s a rare combination in my experience and leads me to think that Lucas is an extraordinary writer. He took six years to complete this story and it shows.
In my opinion this book is rated 4.5 stars since it doesn’t get much better - a lyrical historical novel with mystical yet realistic threads. I am wondering when we will see his next book? Hopefully it won’t be another six years.(less)
A sweet and mostly realistic tale, with touches of the magical. The story addresses connections to loved ones after death.
Mini Synopsis: This is a translated work which is a sweet and fantastic tale about a young boy whose family moves to Israel from New York to care for his aging and dying grandfather. Michael, his American name, is a loner of a child and prefers adult company to that of children. He is comfortable with this move since he does speak fluent Hebrew.
Upon arrival to Israel, he meets his grandfather and they become very close. Over their time together his grandfather shares his knowledge of his special gift, that Michael also possess. Only Michael doesn’t realize how special he really is.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this tale with its many interesting themes, such as addressing dreams, death, respect for the old, thinking about rebirth, reincarnation, sharing past lives, vegetarianism, morality and recognizing special gifts.
Several problems I had with the book is that it did not feel completely translated in a few small areas; there were bits which could be confusing for an American reader. I imagine that this was remedied since the copy that I read was an ARC – advanced read copy. Another is that one of the characters, Michael’s grandfather’s housekeeper/girlfriend, was portrayed as a difficult person. My problem was that although she cared for his grandfather, his grandfather’s home, did all the cooking, and after a move did these things for Michael's family as well, she was treated with disrespect by the entire family. Not a great role model for a child.
All in all, I adore translations and when looking beyond the annoyances mentioned above, I give this book 3.5 stars. I liked it a lot.(less)