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Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love Paperback – June 2, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Vapnary’s collection of short stories serves up insights into the intimate relationship of food and love. Nina, a Russian émigré living in Brooklyn, buys vegetables that she never finds time to cook. When her husband departs, she takes solace in her refrigerator full of them, no matter that they’ve gone rotten and moldy. Lonely carpet installer Sergey visits a woman he must pay for services, but her real attraction for him turns out to be not sex but a superior borscht. Another woman recalls with her lover the endless lines Russians endured in the last days of the Soviet Union and how she first discovered that boys differed from girls. Luda and Milena meet in an English class. Luda learns to cook from watching the Food Network, and she engages in competition with Milena for the attentions of a fellow classmate both women find attractive. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727988X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307279880
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By L. Young VINE VOICE on June 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms.Vapnyar has created here six elegant gems which cover the hopes, dreams and disappointments in the Russian emigree community. However, despite this focus on the Russian community in America these stories are universal, which is what makes them most memorable.

The stories amazingly all revolve around humble foods. A head of broccoli becomes a symbol of possibility for a deserted woman. A bowl of borscht represents comfort to an emigree dealing with the demands of a new country. A bag of puffed rice is a reminder of a traumatic event in a young girl's life.

All of the stories are tinged with the sadness of a place, a person, a dream left behind. Ms. Vapnyar deserves a wide audience for her beautiful prose.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Another book from the author who grips with witty and creative writing. My favorite thing about Lara Vapnyar's stories is how masterfully she blends true life with fiction. While a lot of her ideas are drawn from the memories of growing up in the Soviet Union and later immigrating to the US, in the end they always make you wonder where exactly the transition was, and at which point a story took that sharp turn into the world of creativity, almost fantasy or farse.
FYI: one definitely true statement - the snow really does not crunch here the same way it did back in Russia...
If this is your first Vapnyar book, you also owe to yourself to read the other two: "There are Jews in My House", and "Memoirs of Muse".
One thing I found evident reading her books is how her English skills have progressed. While the early stories had the same witty and warm feeling, sometimes the diction felt a little too much like a word for word translation from Russian. I have a good fortune being fluent in both English and Russian, and was able to pick up on subtle details like that.
Overall, a great book, with a lot of powerful ideas packed in a small package.
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Format: Paperback
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love would be perfect for someone participating in the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge. There are six short stories in the book, and they all have to do with food. There are even recipes for some Russian dishes in the back.

"A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf" tells the story of Nina, a Russian immigrant who loves to shop for vegetables but rarely cooks them.

"Borscht" is a sad story about two people who come to the States to earn money for their families, but then their loved ones are indifferent to them going back home to Russia.

"Puffed Rice and Meatballs" is about Katya's memory of a childhood incident that she refuses to share with her American boyfriend.

In "Salad Olivier," a mother tries to find her daughter a boyfriend -- but he must be Russian.

"Luda and Milena" was my favorite story. Two older women fighting over an older man with their cooking.

In "Slicing Sauteed Spinach," Ruzena lets her lover choose her food for her. Until...

I really enjoyed this collection, but especially "Luda and Milena." It was a pure gem.

Lara Vapnyar won the 2004 Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers for There Are Jews in my House. She emigrated from Russia in 1994 when she was in her early twenties and now lives in New York.
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Format: Paperback
Lara Vapnyar has a fascination with food, although not of the type usually written about and praised. Vapnyar's selection of food resembles her approach to fiction, which is simple, straightforward, and sustaining. Her first collection of short stories ("There are Jews in My House") showed the promise of a gifted story writer, and this second collection (a novel was published in between) confirm earlier expectations. The Russian born writer, now living in New York, came to the U.S. when she was 23 but writes in English. Perhaps writing in a second language has granted Vapnyar an economy with words other writers may want to imitate.

Many of the stories deal with the Russian immigrant experience, especially in New York, where all the Russians are henceforth working as "computer programmers" no matter what their previous work entailed. Nina, the main character in the opening "A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf," actually was a computer programmer. Now she is obsessed with vegetable shopping, although she never actually gets around to cooking with them. Food, as in many of these stories, shows a hope for the future, of what people like Nina will someday accomplish. In the meantime, the vegetables rot in the refrigerator, another set of hopes turning moldy. However, while Vapnyar may deal in realism, she is not above seeing hope as the story ends with Nina standing on a chair above the broccoli finally steaming on stove as "the warm aroma of broccoli rose up, caressing Nina's face, enveloping the whole of her."

The realism also takes hold in "Salad Olivier" where we see the heroine challenged to find a husband which, according to a psychologist, will allow her father to rise from the couch and reenter life.
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Format: Hardcover
In a triumphant return to the short story form of her extraordinary debut with There Are Jews in My House, Lara Vapnyar gives us a delightful new collection in which food and love intersect, along with their overlapping pleasures, frustrations, and deep associations in the lives of her unforgettable characters.

Each story invites us into the uniquely captivating private worlds of Vapnyar's Eastern European native land. Even though Lara Vapnyar learned English only after immigrating to the USA in 1994, her writing is tasteful and vivid. Sprinkled with humor and the benevolence of humankind, this slim volume is a page-turner.

The first story, "A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf," opens with a vegetable lover named Nina who has recently arrived from Russia. Nina connects with food preferably to those around her. The descriptions of the vegetables make the reader sense them, the smell of them and the feel of them. The colorful abundance of the vegetable markets in New York represents her own fresh hopes and dreams. When Nina's husband leaves her, Nina's sister rummages through the refrigerator and remarks: "You've got the whole vegetable graveyard in here."

In "Puffed Rice and Meatballs," Katya yields to the whims of her lover in pillow talk. He tries to engage her in a discussion about the horror of communism but she changes the subject and recounts her first sexual experience to him instead. When she was in preschool, a young boy wanted to play "I'll show you mine and you show me yours," and she vividly recalls children eating from plates piled high with meatballs, countering the notion of food scarcity. Later at home, drinking dark tea and dipping into a jar of walnut jam, Katya finds the jam "too sugary and wrong." She's disgusted with herself and her story.
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