Each of Lara Vapnyar's six stories invites us into a world where food and love intersect, along with the overlapping pleasures and frustrations of Vapnyar's uniquely captivating characters. Meet Nina, a recent arrival from Russia, for whom colorful vegetables represent her own fresh hopes and dreams . . . Luda and Milena, who battle over a widower in their English class with competing recipes for cheese puffs, spinach pies, and meatballs . . . and Sergey, who finds more comfort in the borscht made by a paid female companion than in her sexual ministrations. They all crave the taste and smell of home, wherever—and with whomever—that may turn out to be. A roundup of recipes are the final taste of this delicious collection.
The third book from Vapnyar (following There Are Jews in My House and Memoirs of a Muse) links food to lonely, loveless dating among recent Russian immigrants over six tales. The opening "A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf" follows endearingly scatterbrained Nina, whose penchant for letting vegetables wilt in the fridge comes to symbolize her marriage. The warm, awkward "Borscht" centers on the monastic Sergey, who splurges on an "affordable" prostitute and finds the transaction doesn't go as planned. In "Luda and Milena," the two titular elderly women try to outcook each other to win the affections of Aron, the 79-year-old widower who is the prize single man of their ESL program. Vapnyar, who emigrated from Russia in 1994, draws the humor from her characters' pretensions and predicaments, but also finds a great pathos in their quiet-and not so quiet-desperation. She ends the collection with a blog-voiced roundup of recipes that's incongruent with the delicate stories, but her take on the poignant oddities of New York Russian émigré life is universally palatable. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.