Excerpt from Savage Feast by Boris Fishman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Savage Feast

Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes)

by Boris Fishman

Savage Feast by Boris Fishman X
Savage Feast by Boris Fishman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 368 pages
    Feb 2020, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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Print Excerpt

The following week, Anna told her parents she was staying late at the university. Lying to them made her feel ill—she had never done it before. It took forty minutes to reach the small apartment in the tall building blocks on the outskirts. It seemed like an impossibly long time to go from one place to another in the same city. Yakov was silent most of the way; he didn't even put his arm around her. Anna asked if he was all right, but he only smiled tightly. She wondered if this was all a mistake.

That afternoon, shuttling between shifts as a part-time accountant at two schools, Faina had stopped at a fish market and bought one newssheet's worth of sardines. The saleswoman in the peaked cap stacked them like little torpedoes, one eye periscoping out from each, and wrapped the bundle at both ends like a candy. Faina had bought the sardines because they were cheap. She splurged on the tomatoes, from Bulgaria.

At home, she covered the bottom of the cast-iron German pot—scratched here and there but still worthy thirty years later, only that now she cooked on a stovetop—with a little vegetable oil and scattered in two diced onions. While these sizzled, she sliced thick rings of tomato—tomatoes this firm did not end up under her knife very often. Once the onions had browned, she added the tomatoes, watching it all froth the right way. The silver arrows of the sardines went in last.

When the young couple entered, Faina offered the girl a perfunctory greeting. Anna would have assumed it was because Faina was in mourning, but her boyfriend's mother was dressed for an exuberant birth: a bright green blouse tucked into an apple-red skirt, big dangling earrings, and fake pearls that took up half her chest. The real reason Faina was short with her was that she couldn't stray from the gas.

Anna didn't have to look around many corners to see it was a homely place—there weren't that many corners around which to look. There was only one room large enough for a bed, which meant that Yakov slept ... on that foldout cot. There was no chandelier in the dining room, only a lamp with an old-fashioned fabric lampshade with fringes.

After Faina shut off the heat, she set down a pitcher of fruit compote, an oval plate with slices of black bread she had charred on the stovetop (toasted bread was unheard of, but Faina liked hers that way, and so the young woman should, too), and then the cast-iron pot with its "nose-ripping" scent. The sardines had kept their shape. The tomatoes were blistered and sugary. The onion had melted almost to paste.

They ate largely in silence, Faina asking Anna no questions. Anna felt the last of her hopefulness draining away. She was used to the clamor of her parents' kitchen, someone on the way in, someone out, fish frying to a golden crust, crystal thimbles clinking away. Belatedly, she became aware that the others were staring; lost in thought, she was mindlessly working through sardine after sardine, her utensils forgotten. Everyone laughed.

Anna's shoulders relaxed, and she tried a compliment: What a beautiful lamp. Faina nodded: The pattern had been woven by a woman with whom she sang in a choir. A choir! Anna had never met someone who sang in a choir. Was that so? Hear this, then—and Faina broke into song. Then she described every woman who sang with her. If she had difficulty inquiring about Anna, she had none speaking about herself. She told Yakov to get his accordion.

His what? Why hadn't he ever told her? He shrugged—it never came up. He proposed a song that was popular that year, about one of the forests outside Minsk ("I understand your eternal sorrow, dense wood"), but Faina rejected that as too downbeat. "Let's do 'The Azov Sea,' " she said. She had gone to the Sea of Azov, near Crimea, on vacation; after a concert, she made the singer write down all the lyrics. Mother and son looked at each other, nodded, and:

Wide is your yonder so blue

From the book Savage Feast by Boris Fishman. Copyright © 2019 by Boris Fishman. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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