Freelance reporter Badkhen attempts to wrap her many war-zone experiences around the framework of food.
Born in the Soviet Union, the author has traveled to numerous combat zones, braving the shooting, shelling, highway robbery and inebriated officers to get her stories. Amid the chaos, fear, disease and privation, the author managed to have some fine, though not necessarily lavish, meals with people she came to call friends—examples of “the myriad brazen, congenial, persistent ways in which life in the most forlorn and violent places on earth shamelessly reasserts itself.” In this debut memoir, the author recounts these meals and the circumstances surrounding them. Borsch in Russia, lamb kebab in Afghanistan, dolma in Iraq—these meals seemed to shape Badkhen’s experiences just as much as the horror and destruction of the areas she visited. Though the author provides some cultural insights, the food connection is tenuous, as the meals she discusses feel like asides or afterthoughts to the experiences and the people involved. The chapter on borsch, for example, focuses almost entirely on the Russian government’s response to Chechen rebel activities, mentioning borsch as one constant in the lives of a people continually betrayed by their government. The philosophical connection is interesting, but the food tie-in is more of a random analogy spread across a more compelling discussion about how Russia treats its people. This recurs throughout the book, resulting in a narrative sprinkled with absorbing observations but ultimately made less cohesive by its primary theme.
An intriguing premise marred by an uneven delivery.