[Fishman] engage[s] with gendered migrant labor, offering nuanced portrayals of some of the dynamics between foreigners who share a Soviet past but belong to different cultures, waves, and types of migration ... Boasting recipes for dishes that Fishman’s late grandmother and other relatives used to cook, the book gradually becomes a collection of Oksana’s kitchen wisdom ... The recipes that Fishman includes in his book refer to Oksana’s practice of cooking this or that dish as a kind of imprimatur, a stamp of authenticity without which the instructional content of the self-described 'memoir with recipes' would scarcely work. Yet this stamp of authenticity relies on Fishman’s adept translations into the English of his intended readers ... Fishman skillfully avoids portraying Oksana, who has played a critical role in his life, as a matronly, obliging caregiver who exists for the purpose of serving his family. He depicts her with obvious affection and sensitivity, but also with some distance, perhaps as an acknowledgment of his lack of access to the inner life of a female migrant.
Reading Mr. Fishman’s story reminds us that all immigrant and refugee stories, regardless of their starting and ending points, are improbably heroic ... Mr. Fishman’s story—as a refugee, a seeker and an insatiable eater—is inherently compelling. But the book’s brilliance lies in the author’s self-awareness and honest appraisal of his, and his family’s, shortcomings. He writes from the perspective of someone who learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable in his own skin—someone with no secrets left to keep ... Mr. Fishman also writes wonderfully about food. Many of the Russian dishes he describes—braised veal tongue, fried buckwheat patties, liver pie—may be unfamiliar and seem unappetizing to a mainstream American palate. But Mr. Fishman convinces readers to salivate along with him ... The two dozen recipes interspersed throughout the text simultaneously enhance the book’s narrative and beckon readers to the stove ... By the last third of the book it is nearly impossible not to be rooting for the author. Mr. Fishman’s struggles and triumphs are uniquely his own, but his most primal desires are universal: to be seen and understood by loved ones, and to eat like a czar.
Enthusiastic meals — not all of them in transit — are the language of this book, the waypoints and transitions, the narrative beats and instigative sparks that drive the storytelling. The meals are fantastic ... Many of the best parts of this book will be familiar to readers of Fishman’s work; indeed, Savage Feast feels at times like a key to his novel A Replacement Life, which involved the creation of fraudulent Holocaust restitution stories — in other words, telling stories about your family. But here there’s a more straightforward desire for connection and a much less postmodern quest to find someone to eat with.