• Cathy Castling

The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti, trans. James Christian Brown

Updated: Mar 9

I'm reading The Book of Perilous Dishes as part of my very first readalong on Twitter. The event has been kindly organised by Neem Tree Press and will run from 3rd to 9th March 2022 to celebrate the publication of this wonderful book in English.

Book Cover: The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti

Summary of the book

The Book of Perilous Dishes is a fantastic historical fantasy written by Doina Rusti and translated from Romanian into English by James Christian Brown.

The Book of Perilous Dishes is an atmospheric magical tale based on real historical events and Romanian culinary recipes, set in Bucharest, 1798. It follows the story of Pâtca, a fourteen-year-old initiated in the occult arts, who uses her powers to avenge the death of her uncle and retrieve a magical recipe book (the ‘Book of Perilous Dishes’) left in his keeping which has been stolen by Silica the cook. Travelling from Romania to France and on to Germany to do so, Pâtca’s family’s true past and powers are revealed...

Image of old fashioned buildings in Romania
Image by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash

About Doina Rusti

Doina Rusti is one of Romania’s most successful writers of historical and speculative fiction. Known for the originality of her novels, Rusti is the recipient of many major Romanian awards, and her books have been translated into multiple languages. Rusti is known for exploring aspects of fantasy and the supernatural, as well as tackling darker themes such as political corruption.

About James Christian Brown

James Christian Brown, originally from Scotland, has lived in Romania since 1993 and teaches in the English Department of the University of Bucharest. His most recent book-length translations from Romania to English are The Tiger of Our Town by Gianina Cărbunariu (2016), the volume of philosophical talks About the World We Live In by Alexandru Dragomir (2017), and Doina Rusti’s novel The Book of Perilous Dishes (Neem Tree Press, 2022).

Neem Tress Press Readalong

You can follow the readalong on Twitter.

Thursday 3rd March - Card 1 - Page 11

The start of the story gives us a glimpse at how resilient the main character is and how strong she'll have to be. It's clear her heart is breaking, watching her grandmother being taken away, but she knows what she has to do to survive...

She has to leave this part of her life behind and start a new journey.

I think this isn't her first experience of persecution and death. And it won't be her last, either. However, I think losing her grandmother will be an event that has a huge impact on her for the rest of her life.

Friday 4th March - Card 2 - Page 47

I think I would have continued with my original plan to discreetly move the bodies I'd found.

Based on the events of the previous night, Pâtca isn't safe in the city. I think she stands out like a sore thumb, so she should keep her head down, as the last thing she wants is to be accused of murdering her own uncle.

I think the poison is either for the Cook's captor or for Caterina... Or a dinner guest that the Cook will be preparing a meal for.

I think the Cook's wife bought the poison on his behalf so that it can be put into somebody's food... Maybe Ismail Bina? Pâtca's captor from the night before...

Saturday 5th March - Card 3 - Page 50

Pâtca's story begins on this road, her grandmother, Maxima, was born here. Pâtca seems somehow bound to Murta Street, like it's in her veins.

Even though she's never set foot on Murta Street, she's had the road, and the city, drummed into her by Maxima... Almost like it's her destiny to go there.

I think her grandmother has been slowly preparing her for travelling to Bucharest. And now that the time has come, she's ready to go.

I think Pâtca will find these elusive houses eventually. But it might not necessarily be as straightforward as you might think.

I think the houses will reveal themselves when the time is right; when Pâtca is ready for what might come when she does eventually find them.

Sunday 6th March - Card 4 - Page 74

Sator seems to be some sort of power or essence. Something that can be harnessed by those who are gifted or trained.

Maybe something that can be used by people to defend themselves or do their bidding?

Pâtca first calls on Sator to help her defend herself when she's in a potentially dangerous situation. However, she doesn't know how to control Sator...

This makes me wonder whether a person has to be trained to be able to control Sator. So, does this essence only lend itself to those who need help and are worthy of receiving that help?

Monday 7th March - Card 5 - Page 90

Not sure if I've got a favourite recipe from The Book of Perilous Dishes... However, the gut salad stood out.

"It was a rare dish, also known as errator pinniger, because the patient's wanderings took wings, transforming dreams into nightmares. The salad is made from leaks and parsley, together with other green vegetables available at the same time, but the principal ingredient is lamb guts, heavily salted and fried in oil."

Neither the ingredients nor the outcome of eating this dish really appeal to me... But the nonchalant way Pâtca talks about this (and other dishes in the story) really got me.

She seems to sort of know how to make a lot of the recipes in The Book of Perilous Dishes. She's had them passed down to her by Maxima and her little Uncle, who got them from their parents and family.

An interesting family heirloom, but not one I would want to fall victim to!

Tuesday 8th March - Card 6 - Page 126

I think that Pâtca feels like the cook doesn't really understand what The Book of Perilous Dishes actually is or what it can actually do.

I think she's concerned he doesn't know what he's doing and could inadvertently cause some real damage.

I think the cook is observing Pâtca in the same way she's been watching him. Him giving her the ladybirds and then later asking whether she'd used them almost felt like a dare. Like he wants to see what she's capable of.

I'm undecided whether Pâtca's feelings towards the cook will change. I think he'll either become a mentor-slash-ally figure in her life, pushing her to fulfill her potential. Or he'll become her competition, her enemy.

Either way, I think he'll help her reach her full power and potential, it's just a matter of whether he does this intentionally or not.

Wednesday 9th March - Card 7 - Page 235

This isn't my first experience reading translated fiction (and certainly won't be my last). But it is my first experience reading a book that was translated from Romanian into English. And I absolutely loved it!

James Brown, the translator, has done a fantastic job bringing the characters' personalities alive in English.

In his translator's note, Brown says that he chose to keep some of the time-and-place-specific words and phrases, that Ruști used in Romanian, in English.

I love this nod toward the source text (the Romanian) because it brings us, the readers, closer to the author, Ruști, and her fabulous cast of characters.

I like that Brown also points out that the confusion felt by those of us reading in English when we see these Romanian words are "equally puzzling to most Romanians nowadays too".

Keeping some words in Romanian also helps add to the story's atmosphere. It's a fast-paced tale and we meet lots of characters in rapid succession. We're also privy to Pâtca's thoughts about those she meets.

The pace of meeting all of these characters, the events in Pâtca's life once she leaves for Bucharest and the multitude of languages that she hears in the city all create a mild feeling of confusion.

And I think Brown's choice to keep some Romanian words adds to this general feeling of confusion. Pâtca, and the readers, don't know who to trust, who killed her little Uncle, is anyone who they really say they are? We're not sure.

The glossary and list of characters at the end of the story really help you navigate Pâtca's story and provide a bit of clarity when you need it.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Book of Perilous Dishes. The story is entertaining, Pâtca is quick-witted and clever, and it has just the right amount of magic and mystery to keep you reading.

I want to say a big thank you to Doina Rusti, James Christian Brown, and Neem Tree Press for giving me the opportunity to take part in the readalong for The Book of Perilous Dishes.

My full review will come shortly!

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