From National Book Critics Circle:
When Nora Ephron wrote her bitterly comic novel Heartburn and threw in a few recipes to sweeten the effect, she was devising a recipe for other authors to follow. Since then, novelists including Jan Karon, Laura Esquivel and Diane Mott Davidson have made food an essential ingredient of their books and included recipes for the avid reader. We can now, happily, add Lara Vapnyar to that list. And more important, we also can note that Vapnyar is one of the increasingly impressive roster of authors who have emigrated from Russia and other Eastern European countries and are now producing, in graceful and nuanced English that seems like their mother tongue, some of our finest contemporary literary fiction.
In Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, she captures, with exquisite description and delicately irony, the loneliness of the outsider, grateful to be living here, yet longing to feel at home. Vapnyar, who emigrated from Russia in 1994 knowing only a little English, now lives on Staten Island. She has also written the novel Memoirs of a Muse and There are Jews in my House, a story collection, as is Broccoli. Food is a central element in these tales. In the opener, “A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf,” Nina, an immigrant and “a computer programmer, like everybody else,” who considers herself plain and clumsy, reads cookbooks as if they were porn and buys vegetables by the armload, but never quite gets around to cooking them for her handsome husband. This is a story of emptiness amidst abundance, and it takes another immigrant — also plain, also lonely, but kind — to lift Nina up, literally and figuratively, into joy.