If you’re looking for a magical adventure into 18th-century Bucharest, you don’t want to miss “The Book of Perilous Dishes.” Chock full of dangerous recipes and even more dangerous characters, you’ll be turning the pages well after the clock says it’s time for bed.

About the Book

1798: A magical, dark adventure. Fourteen-year-old Pâtca, initiated in the occult arts, comes to Bucharest, to her uncle, Cuviosu Zăval, to retrieve the Book of Perilous Dishes. The recipes in this magical book can bring about damaging sincerity, forgetfulness, the gift of prediction, or hysterical laughter. She finds her uncle murdered and the book missing. All that Zăval has left her is a strange map she must decipher. Travelling from Romania to France and on to Germany to do so, Patca’s family’s true past and powers are revealed, as is her connection to the famous and sublime chef, Silica.

My Thoughts

One of my favorite things about being a reader is the opportunity to travel without leaving home. I mean, would I like to travel for real also, yes. But books are a whole lot cheaper than airline tickets. This is the first book I’ve ever read set in Romania. Honestly, I had to look up where Bucharest is. I kept hoping it would come to me, but geography and languages are one of the areas a middling American public school education tend to suffer the most.

We won’t get into politics, but this is obviously a part of the world we’ve all had our eyes on more in the past few years – so I was excited to get into a book on the area. Especially since my dad (stepdad, so not my biological lineage, but I’d argue it still matters because he’s the only dad I’ve known) is a descendant of immigrants from Czechia. This is a fiction book, but I believe fiction is a great insight into culture. It lets us see into the soul and heart of a place. Sure, some people read ancient nonfiction – when they can find it – but Shakespeare and Austen have stood the test of time.

Rusti’s tale is unlike any I’ve read before. Because of my non-exposure to central European literature, I can’t assess if this is because of its origin or if she has created something unique and completely original. I’d like to think it’s a little of both. It seems drenched in culture and history, so I would assume it is drawing on history, cultural cues, and context that those of us not in the know don’t have. But, the beautiful, intricate weaving of a tale of a girl spending her life searching for the titular “Book of Perilous Dishes,” which takes us on a wild and complex adventure is surely all her own.

I enjoyed the interesting structure, the complicated, morally intriguing characters, and the twisty, shadowy dangerous tale. While this might have been my first Central European tale, I don’t think it will be my last. I’m intrigued by the history and beliefs, infused with magic. I’d love to see how much magic plays into the real belief systems and the historical context for this story, so I can better understand the social commentary. I am so grateful to the author and TheWriteReads Tours for including me in this tour!

Who’s It For?

If you enjoy learning about different periods, magical elements, adventures, and cultures, this is a great read. It’s a very political book, but from the eyes of a teen girl with magical leanings, it’s not a typical political or war book.

Content Warnings: Religious Ideology, Death, Murder, Suicidal Ideation, Graphic Violence, Imprisonment, Slavery, Racism, Adult Situations, Adult Language, Ghosts, Magic, Fear

About the Author

Doina Ruști, an important contemporary Romanian novelist, is unanimously appreciated for epic force, for originality and erudition of her novels. She received all major Romanian awards, including the Romanian Academy Prize, and was translated into many languages (even in Chinese).
She wrote ten novels, including: Fantoma din moară (The Phantom in the Mill, 2008), Lizoanca (2009), Zogru (2006).
The novels Manuscrisul fanariot (The Phanariot Manuscript, 2015), Mâța Vinerii (The Book of Perilous Dishes, 2017) and “Homeric” (2019) can be a Phanariotic Trilogy (18th century). The most recent novel: Paturi oculte (Occult beds), 2020.
Good international reviews in: La Stampa, Stato Quotidiano, Il Venerdì di Repubblica. Il Libero, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Magyar Nemzet, La Opinion, Turia. Il Mercurio etc.

Doina Rusti lives in Bucharest, and is a professor and screenwriter.

As a Bookshop.org (US) Affiliate, I may earn on qualifying purchases. Bookshop.org purchases support local, independent bookshops. My chosen affiliate bookshop is Tubby & Coo’s Traveling Bookshop, a local, queer-owned bookshop in New Orleans.