Friday, June 18, 2010

Recipes for Russia: Food and Nationhood Under the Tsars

by Alison Smith

Impressive work. Uses the focal point of Russian food consumption to explore the wider patterns of community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, framing a well researched and well argued account. Smith’s book is particularly insightful into the ways identity was made and contested in this period, and the increasingly central yet also restricted position the domestic housewife occupied in the formation of family norms. There are some powerful arguments here on the prominence of recipes and dining as a part of broader Russian politics, and the work effectively draws on the very material and the very ideological in conjunction. The investigating premise allows a familiar story of despotism and struggling modernization to be told in a very different light, and the insight into gendered power structures are very welcome. Above all this work is well structured and well written, making for a much more engaging and useful book than I expected going in.

Better than: Writing at Russia’s Borders by Katya Hokanson
Worse than: Sweeping the German Nation by Nancy Reagin

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