I read how Aminat had grown up in a Soviet ghetto without a father, just her mother’s ever-changing men.  How she had starved and had been beaten for being such a disobedient child.  How finally she had been sold to a German paedophile by her grandmother in exchange for him marrying her mother and how she landed in Germany as a result.  I read and read, but there was nothing about me.  Typical.

And there you have it in a nutshell. The fictional reader of this piece is the grandmother who allegedly sold her granddaughter in exchange for her daughter’s wedding ring and she thinks she’s not been mentioned! Rosa Achmetowna is a self-delusional egomaniac, whose pursuit of what she thinks best for her family (coincidentally always the best thing for her) is relentless. She brooks no argument, not even from those she is seeking to protect and improve.  She is brutally honest about the flaws of others and cannot see her own.  She’d be an absolute nightmare to live with in real life and yet her narrative of 262 pages simply whizzes along.  Should you believe a word she says? Unequivocally yes.  Feeling no guilt, she hides nothing and, thus, unwittingly reveals the damage that well-meaning though dysfunctional family members can inflict on each other.  Which is not to say that she reveals everything  nor that you can believe every word she says.

The passage I quoted above comes towards the end of the novel. It’s up to the reader to determine whether this  tabloid biography of an x-factor contestant is sensationalised.  Because it is a summary of the story that Rosa Achmtowna has just told and, while there are elements of the unsavoury truth in the newspaper account, there are also elements of unsavoury untruth.  While Rosa is definitely no saint, I find myself reluctant to condemn her as a monster.  I certainly don’t condone everything she does, yet I never found myself alienated from her.  No – that’s not quite true either.  There was one time.  The important thing for me was that this didn’t render her irredeemable, though I can perfectly understand how she might reach that tipping point for others.  That would strip the book of its comedy and ruin it entirely.

For Rosa’s voice is a comic riot.  Even if the events she describes are anything but funny.  That’s what makes The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine such an extraordinary read and an astonishing achievement.  I’ve never read anything like it. (Actually, I’m telling fibs again. Rosa is such a bad influence. Try this one.)