Sometimes a narrator will tell the story with real feeling, drawing you in and playing on your heartstrings. Giving you unlimited access to their thoughts and feelings and the way that they see the world. And some narrator's are just downright unreliable, giving you heir version of events and leaving it to you to figure out what really happened. Rosalinda, the main character of Alina Bronsky's "The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine" is one of those narrators.
Rosalinda is, at least according to herself, a very capable woman. She is clever, intelligent, beautiful and with more energy and gusto than most. At least according to herself. In reality she is incredibly forceful and downright manipulative, stopping at nothing to get what she wants. When we first meet her, she is the mother of the 17-year-old disappointment Sulfia who is neither clever nor pretty and when it turns out that she is pregnant, Rosalinda does her very best to provoke an abortion. It doesn't happen which turns out to be for the best because her little grandchild Aminat becomes her most precious - I was almost about to write possession...
In Rosalinda's view, noone can take care of Aminat like she can and she completely designs her life around Aminat and the many hopes that she has for her future. The book follows them for the next thirty years, as Rosalinda repeatedly marries off Sulfia to one hapless husband after the other and eventually succeeds to sell Aminat to a sleazy, cheap, disgusting German in return for him marrying Sulfia and bringing the three of them to Germany. It is a family tale like none you've ever read before and it's a fabulous story, fabulously well-written.
I absolutely love the unreliableness of Bronsky's narrator. Everything she says is so tainted by her own interpretations that it is almost impossible to distinguish what actually goes on and her cunning ways and at times evil manipulation is depicted by herself as almost saintly behaviour. She never does anything for herself, everything is done for others.
At the same time, the author manages to occasionally take a step back from her narrator and show us who she really is - but it is done with a sly, dry humour. Actually humour is what saves the storyline because if you look at it, it is an incredibly sad story. But it is told with such humour, compassion and attention to absurdness that it doesn't come across as sad. It almost becomes a testament to life despite trouble and difficulties, to survival even against the worst odds.
It is a fantastic book - I'm pretty sure that it'll make it unto the Best Books of 2013 list in a year's time. It's dramatic, sad, poignantly beautiful and told with skill, intelligence and humour!