October 9, 2012 by markstani
Hector Abad’s Recipes For Sad Women (pub. Pushkin Press) is, its dust-jacket is at pains to point out, neither a cook book nor a novel. Its actual genre remains open to question: an instruction manual, perhaps, on how best to confront the everyday perils of the human heart.
Arad’s narrator, a mysterious, philosophical figure, imparts morsels of wisdom to women pertaining to a range of mental and physical ailments: some take the form of recipes, some mere words of wisdom: others, the narrator concedes have no cure.
The pearls he dishes out are deliciously arbitrary: some preposterous, some eminently sensible. Dinosaur meat, we are told, remains the only effective remedy for guilt. Forget the obvious: fried testicles will not cure impotence, nor lungs tuberculosis. Those afflicted with bad breath must simply learn how to brush their teeth properly; on the other hand, laughter can only be brought about by finding and thawing a steak of woolly mammoth, and even then experience suggests the recipe is far from foolproof:
It is advisable to rub with rosemary, lots of salt, garlic, Mexican chillies, pepper, dill, pimiento, all this and many more condiments should go into the marinade for this meat as dark as caves. It’s advisable for the animal and for the palate. After grilling, you eat it immersed in vodka no warmer than four degrees, take a prudent bite and mix it in the cave of your mouth with the icy liquor, forming a cold, strong pate with your molars. Swallow without fear and help it down the sensitive oesophagus with another sip of vodka.
Three of the times I’ve tried this recipe, as I said, the effect of the barbecued mammoth was happy and hilarious. I should warn you, though, that once it did cause vomiting, diarrhoea, paleness and even anaemia and bleeding in two of the diners. Anyway, if it’s well prepared, you’ll never lose a guest to grilled mammoth steaks.
Some closed-minded scientists deny the hilarious effect of mammoth meat. Don’t pay any attention to their bitter comments – they have never tried it and therefore lack the only proof. It is an infallible culinary rule – trust only those who have tasted it. I tried mammoth and I can say – three times out of four it brings delicious hilarity.
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, ‘Recipes For Sad Women’ is a unique, baffling, beautiful book: stuck in the stocking of a loved one, it will surely provide the best remedy of all at Christmas*.
* Though if she serves up sancocho, you should start to worry.