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IN BRIEF

Non Fiction

February 07, 1993|KAREN STABINER

A HISTORY OF VODKA by William Pokhlebkin. (Verso: $29.95; 222 pp.) East meets West in a joint publishing venture begun this past summer, and one of the first things this particular Easterner wants to do is assert Russia's indisputable paternity when it comes to vodka. You may have thought that this potent, clear liquid was simply God's complement to caviar, or one of Poland's contributions to world society. But Pokhlebkin begs, emphatically, to differ. Vodka is Russian, down to its dregs, and not merely a drink but also a national treasure. The derivation of the name itself--it is the diminutive of the Russian word for water--is proof to the author of its ancestry. He traces vodka back to the 14th Century, and then through social history to the present, where he lambastes the government for forgetting Lenin's cardinal rule--"Production is always necessary!"--and dismantling much of the country's liquor-production facilities as an answer to its alcoholism problem. Since no history of vodka would be complete without a section on what to do with the devil spirits, there is an appendix listing foods that go well with vodka (an impressive array of salmon) as well as the appropriate side dishes.

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