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Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love
Lara Vapnyar, Pantheon, $20
In our gastro-obsessed culture, it would be easy to mistake Lara Vapnyar’s second book of stories for yet another self-help fantasy in the profitable school of Eat, Pray, Love and Julie and Julia. (Pantheon’s marketing won’t disabuse you of the notion: The cover sports a lone broccoli in the shape of a heart.) But a better analog for Vapnyar’s six lapidary short stories can be found in the unsentimental prose of Jhumpa Lahiri, another spare realist who crafts a circumscribed world of immigrants at sea in our globalized culture. Vapnyar knows and sticks to her own ground: first-generation Russians eking out a living in Brooklyn, the majority working as computer programmers, a few others as students and carpet installers, and one as a nanny who moonlights as a prostitute. Food is simply an entry point into her character studies, and when she writes that a bowl of hot borscht is [s]teaming, bursting with color. All shades of red in perfect harmony with the faded purple of beets, you know that healing isn’t far away.
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