Doina Rusti has a heroine who is as confused and distractible as most 14-year olds are. She is at times brilliant and at times flighty. Her emotions whirl uncontrollably. She loves and hates and loves again. She rushes to judgment then realizes she was wrong. Or was she? James Christian Brown’s translation captures, I think, the spirit of Rusti’s novel. He does not try to force it into a more American/English format. He allows it to breathe, to carry the Eastern European heart behind it. Pâtca is very identifiable and relatable as a young adult, but is also quite different in her perspective than a teenager in other places might be. Then again, I have never met an immature 18th Century occultist.
Whether Pâtca is an ordinary teenager with a vivid imagination or someone much more powerful is not immediately obvious. What is immediately obvious is that she is an intelligent and strong willed young woman, highly emotional and sometimes prone to impulsive decisions, but intriguing and beguiling all the same. There is magic in this book, and not all of it is found in the recipes.
"Mâța Vinerii”/"The Book of Perilous Dishes" has all that it takes to make a captivating story: a good dose of fantasy, an epic thread pleated together with the sure hand of a story-teller who knows how to ensnare you, an atmosphere so powerful that it stays with you long after you have put the book down, and, last but not least, a subtext that sends you towards the mysteries of the World and of Literature. As its events unfold—on the borderline between magic and the fantastic—in the setting of a picturesque Bucharest of around the year 1800 (a pretext, in fact, for a narrative that transcends the specifics of any documentable historical framework), The Book of Perilous Dishes traces, as if in a dream, the limits of a fictional universe in which, as in some alchemist’s alembic, the deceptive substances of the real are mixed in suitable doses with those, so clearly evident, of an unreality (or surreality) that breaks through into the midst of the everyday. Merchants, sorcerers, spiritists, cooks of the Princely Court, lovers, haughty young ladies, ambassadors from diverse lands, mercenaries, officials of the Sublime Porte, princes in exile and princes newly enthroned, schemers of all sorts, revolutionaries, Bonapartists, tricksters, and envoys of Sator populate the carnivalesque space of this novel of fantasy, whose deeper levels lead far into the
distance, towards worlds we could scarcely imagine.
Bianca BURŢA-CERNAT, Observator cultural
“Mâța Vinerii” (The Book of Perilous Dishes) - “a stylistic jubilation, a vital literature, such as Suskind's “Perfume” to a point, and Evgheni Vodolazkin's “Laur”, from another point on”.
The fictional-gastronomic code in the novel Mâța Vinerii perfectly coexists with the literary revival of Phanariot dynasties. Like a true and experienced archaeologist, Doina Ruști unveils and reconstructs the history of a magical recipe guide and that of the followers of some obscure divinity called Sator. In this historical fiction, the two overlapping codes generate the illusion of parallel worlds - or of alternative worlds - within which factual reality (the socio-political norms and the human typology of that time) is doubled by a magical-mystical dimension, super-human in nature, in which Sator and his followers often use gastronomic tools to coordinate the world.
(MERIDIAN of CRITICISM – Annals of Stefan cel Mare University of Suceava, Romania, Philological Series )