One of the biggest delights of expanding my reading repertoire has been discovering far more interesting female protagonists; discovering women who challenge the societal norms and offer far more than the archaic stereotypical – and often secondary – roles that, with hindsight, seemed to dominate the books I read. I have particularly been taken by the anti-heroines of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Lucy Barton, Jennifer Tseng’s Mayumi, Elena Ferrante’s leading ladies in her novellas The Last Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter, but my hands-down favourite is Rosa Achmetowna from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky published by Europa Editions.
Rosa is at best delusional, at worst devious and despicable yet utterly compelling and at times highly comedic. Her story – not just because it’s first person narrative, it is always all about her – is how she strives to improve life for herself, her daughter and her grand-daughter, ultimately getting them out of Russia to Germany. It is so well nuanced by Bronsky, that while we obviously hear and witness her good intentions, we also see her flaws, which in turn can both repel and charm. And see that she kind of means well, no matter how deluded that may be.