DAY 3: My shock was audible when I saw Russian author, Alina Bronsky, had a new book out (in the US; originally published in 2013), Just Call Me Superhero. If not for Europa Editions and their mostly excellent novels by foreign authors expertly translated–Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the Old Filth trilogy by Jane Gardam–I’d probably never have lucked upon Ms. Bronsky, whose other books include Broken Glass Park and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine. The latter proved almost impossible to put down. My Goodreads review:
“I loved Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park and this is even better. Such a talented writer–and translator, too! Rosa’s becoming one of my favorite characters in recent history. The closest at being the protagonist in this Russian soap opera, she is the master of delusion…or is she? Often cruel, manipulative, and mean to her stupid daughter, Sulfia (great name, by the way) and vapid husband, I can’t dislike this woman. In a way, her explanations for the way she raises and treats her daughter (then granddaughter) have merit.
OK, stick with me while I use lyrics from an 80’s pop song in defending Rosa: ‘You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind in the right measure, cruel to be kind it’s a very good sign, cruel to be kind means that I love you, baby, you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind.’
While I don’t prescribe to this belief 100%, remember that this story takes place in 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s Russia. I doubt it’s a picnic living there (though I’d love to visit); and Rosa, perhaps because of her youthful, reckless love for her now-useless husband and his eyelashes, is determined to instill strength, guts, street smarts, and ruthlessness into Sulfia so she doesn’t suffer the same fate.
It’s difficult to not read in one sitting. I kept saying, ‘One more chapter,’ and yet, I don’t want it to end. Rarely do I read books whose words, story, characters I want to savor. This is one of them.
Does Rosa finally see the light when Sulfia becomes a saint in her eyes? Does she really look much younger than her years? Is she very attractive with lovely legs? Or is she a mean, bitter, remorseless old hag? Perhaps she is both. ‘History repeats itself’ is cliche, but painfully true. As she reads the tabloid reports of her granddaughter’s life before fame, she may be recalling her own horrible past. That’s the thing with ‘unreliable narrators’–you never know.
One of the best new writers I’ve come across. Highly recommended.”
I’m tearing into Just Call Me Superhero today as a means of escape in between reading Green is the New Red (overdue library book; also a must-read) and Animal Liberation (current vegan book club selection).