Russian Cuisine in Exile

Russian Cuisine in Exile


Pyotr Vail and Alexander Genis
Edited and translated by Angela Brintlinger and Thomas Feerick

ISBN: 9781618117304 (paper)
Pages: 114 pp.; 70 illus. (color)
Publication Date: November 2018

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Russian Cuisine in Exile brings the essays of Pyotr Vail and Alexander Genis, originally written in the mid-1980s, to an English-speaking audience. A must-read for scholars, students and general readers interested in Russian studies, but also for specialists in émigré literature, mobility studies, popular culture, and food studies. These essays—beloved by Russians in the U.S., the Russian diaspora across the world, and in post-Soviet Russia—narrate everyday experiences and re-imagine the identities of immigrants through their engagement with Russian cuisine. Richly illustrated and beautifully produced, the book has been translated “not word for word, but smile for smile,” to use the phrase of Vail and Genis’s fellow émigré writer Sergei Dovlatov. Translators Angela Brintlinger and Thomas Feerick have supplied copious authoritative and occasionally amusing commentaries.

Pyotr Vail and Alexander Genis were, as they noted, “geopolitically” Russian. Born citizens of the USSR—Vail in Riga, Latvia in 1949 and Genis in Ryazan, Russia in 1953—they emigrated in 1977 to New York, where they became writers, journalists, and radio broadcasters. Among their endeavors was a short-lived Russian-language newspaper for Soviet émigrés called The New American, which they launced with fellow émigré author Sergei Dovlatov. They also both worked for Radio Liberty, eventually hosting their own programs (“Heroes of Our Time” and “American Hour with Alexander Genis). In 1995 Vail moved to Prague, where he headed the Russia desk and served as managing editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty until his death in 2009, while Genis remained in New York, where he lives to this day. Their writing partnership yielded two important books which make a significant contribution to the field of “everyday life studies,” taking the reader back in time to participate in the 1960s Soviet experience (The 60s. The World of Soviet People) or 1980s émigré life (Russian Cuisine in Exile). Erudite and ethical, clever and kind, these two writers offer a view into the lives of displaced people. Their language and culture tied them to the vast empire which had ejected them, and their thoughtful and often entertaining engagement with politics and literature continues to attract readers across the globe today.

Angela Brintlinger is fascinated with Russian language and culture. She has written, edited and translated numerous books and articles about Russian literature and has taught several generations of students at Ohio State University, including co-translator Thomas Feerick, who is currently pursuing his PhD at Northwestern University.

From Our Blog




Mouth-watering, erudite, nostalgic, mordantly funny, Russian Cuisine in Exile has been a beloved cult classic for generations of hungry Russians both at home and abroad. Now this tour de force of literary food writing is finally available in a terrific English translation, replete with a smart, eye-catching design, whimsical illustrations, and helpful commentaries. A feast for the senses!
— Anya von Bremzen, author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
It is a real delight to have this marvelous volume available at last in English. It is a successful translation on many levels—from Russian to English, but it also translates the experience of Russian exiles to the society they joined. The book gives us Vail and Genis’s translation of their culinary and cultural memories to new world ingredients and technology. Poignant and funny, and beautifully and amusingly illustrated with images of artifacts from Soviet kitchens and cooking advice books.
— Diane P. Koenker, Director, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies
For thirty years now Russian Cuisine in Exile has stood on my shelf, and I’ve continually wished I could share its brilliance with others. Now I can, in this impressive translation that not only captures the book’s spirit but also provides important cultural context through the translators’ copious notes. This book is a classic of exile literature, filled with nostalgia, humor, irony, and insight into both Russian and American culinary cultures. Its appearance in English is great cause for celebration!
— Darra Goldstein, Founding Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture
Pyotr Vail and Alexander Genis’s book Russian Cuisine in Exile has long been an encyclopedia of cultural associations—linked to food, and to so much more. The authors’ ironic style helped them to overcome the temptation of ‘émigré pathos.’ Today, thirty years after the first edition, neither the Soviet Union, nor that cuisine about which they write exists. But a new temptation has appeared—nostalgia, for which their special brand of irony is perhaps the best medicine. In their turn, Angela Brintlinger and Thomas Feerick have done more than translate. They have managed to create a text that is accessible to the Western reader.
— Irina Glushchenko, Associate Professor: Faculty of Humanities, School of Cultural Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics

Table of Contents

Preface (Angela Brintlinger)
Introduction: Expressions of the Soul
1. The Clay Pot – A Repository of Tradition
2. Tea is not Vodka – You can’t drink too much
3. The Scent of Cabbage Soup
4. Walking on Eggshells
5. Back to the Chicken!
6. The Soul of Solyanka
7. Fish Tales
8. Vital Forces
9. An Unfashionable Virtue
10. I’ll Have the Kharcho!
11. Sharlotka, a Russian Name
12. The Anti-Semitic Lily
13. A Chameleon Lunch
14. In Search of Lost Appetite
15. Our Underwater Life
16. Mushroom Metaphysics
17. The Botvinya Battle
18. Running with the Sheep
19. Hang him from the Klyukovo Tree!
20. Ukha – Not Just Soup, but Pure Pleasure
21. Our Native Tongue
22. Jewish Penicillin
23. Salad and Salo
24. Rehabilitating the Cutlet
25. Adventures in Scent
26. The Wolf is Fed and the Lamb Survives
27. Pelmeni for the Lazy
28. Aristocrats in a Can
29. The Russian Rassole
30. Borscht, with a Side of Emancipation
31. A Relative in Military Jacket
32. Picnic in the Pyrenees
33. Exotic and Stinky
34. Veal Tenderness
35. Enjoy the Steam
36. Neither fish nor fowl
37. The Holiday That Is Always with You
38. The Non-False Non-Hare
39. “Sober Drunkenness”  
40. The First is also the Last
41. The Meaning of Sour Cream
42. Breadslicers at Work
43. The West is Wind, The East is Ecstasy
44. A Toast to Gluttons
Interview with Alexander Genis
Further Reading