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Stalina Paperback – January 18, 2011
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Amazon Exclusive: Daphne Kalotay Reviews Stalina
Daphne Kalotay is the author of the novel Russian Winter, and a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Calamity and Other Stories, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Story Prize. She received her M.A. from Boston University's Creative Writing Program, where her stories won the Florence Engel Randall Fiction Prize and a Transatlantic Review Award from the Henfield Foundation, before earning her Ph.D. in Modern and Contemporary Literature. Read her exclusive guest review of Emily Rubin's Stalina:
There are many delightful moments in this odd and entertaining novel.
Named after the man whose many victims include her own father, Stalina Folskaya embodies the ambiguity of so many Soviet citizens toward their country and its communist past; her mother named her for the leader she both "worshipped and feared" out of reverence as well as protection--necessary for a Jew in Russia. And so at the start of this quirky novel, Stalina, like so many Russian Jews in the early '90s, leaves her country for the United States, where she makes a modest yet happy career for herself at the Liberty Motel, a by-the-hour place outside of New Haven, Connecticut.
Despite this surely seedy setting and a plot that involves the Russian mafia, the story and its narrator remain obdurately jolly; even with the many sad stories in our narrator’s past, we sense that no one will come to real harm. But that is part of the charm of this joyful book, which, though it at times tends toward farce, embraces the many bizarre and sorrowful truths in this world.
Setting the tragic absurdities of Stalina’s life in Soviet Russia against the peculiarities of the capitalist USA allows the author’s great sense of humor to shine. (For instance, stepping out of Kennedy Airport upon arrival, Stalina is disconcerted to immediately hear Russian being spoken--by the taxi and limo drivers waiting for their fares.) Stalina is admirably good-natured--self-confident, outgoing, mischievous--and her observations are spot on: "Everything is potentially a drama. I noticed that holidays here always coincide with sales in stores. In Russia we have parades."
Stalina embraces her new life in "Connecticut, USA" whole-heartedly and with optimism, finding the world a curious and amusing place. Her spunk and resourcefulness make up for a storyline that relies a bit much on coincidence, and while the book could use some editorial shaping, what it lacks in plot structure it makes up for in wackiness, including a stray cat raised by a crow, revenge via crematory ashes, and a crime boss whose dream "is to have Berlin, Connecticut become the short-stay capital of the East Coast."
There were many moments where I laughed out loud and many moments where I thought, That is so true. The author respects the often harrowing histories of her Russian characters and, most importantly, is true to human nature, to our weaknesses and superstitions, to the strengths and frailties of our friendships, and to the baggage of the past that we bring with us no matter where we go. As Stalina proudly says of the various betrayals, both horrible and petty, that motivate much of the action in this novel, "It was all very Russian." --Daphne Kalotay
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Top Customer Reviews
I chose to read this book because I seldom have the opportunity to read about people from the former Soviet Union. I was looking for a good story with descriptions of foreign settings and an exposure to foreign culture. Stalina met those expectations.
Stalina is the story of a Russian woman, who after surviving World War II and a strict Communist government, moves to the United States in hopes of a better life. She meets several obstacles but survives to become a success. Although she has a college degree in chemistry and years of work experience in a lab near Leningrad, companies in the United States will not hire her unless an American university certifies her. So she gets a job as a maid in a motel. Because of her creativity and strong will, she thrives in her new life.
Stalina closely observes her environment and writes interesting commentary about places, people, and culture in the United States. She compares Russia with the United States and observes that both have poor people, beggars, run down buildings, police arresting people, and prostitutes walking down the streets trolling for customers.
The story is a straight forward, no nonsense narrative. Stalina bluntly relates her tale. She "tells it like it is". The only real problem is the plot. Stalina has a relatively good life in Saint Peterburg (Leningrad) and has no real motivation to immigrate. The Soviet Union has dissolved and Russia has become democratic. She leaves a professional job to work as a maid in a motel and leaves her mother and friends.Read more ›
Stalina is a Russian Jew named Stalina because her mother wanted to protect her and also because her mother apparently was a died in the wool communist and Stalin lover despite his having taken her husband.
Stalina comes to America in her fifties and ends up working in and running a short stay motel. She designs some of the rooms to have themes which makes the motel the most successful of the short stay strip in a Connecticut suburb. The book switches back and forth between recollections of the Soviet Union and events in her new "home" of America. The accounts are at times humorous, ironic, poignant and almost all the time, interesting. They reflect the dichotomy an immigrant must feel between the memories of the old home and the acceptance of the new. The story of a Soviet couple's Chinese vase is laugh out loud funny.
Stalina is a haunting and memorable character who will stay with the reader for a long time. Her supporting cast is also very good, although at times some ran to a bit stereotypical.
The writing is very interesting. The first person narrative seems to have the stilted manner of someone using their second language in which she is very fluent. The style adds to the flavor of the book.
This is a very good short novel whose main character is extremely memorable.
These seemingly small inaccuracies and the absence of hardly any references to her pre-departure years (surely Stalina was not asleep through Gorbachev's years filled with changes, though her memories lapse over a much longer period of time), can make this immigrant tale unauthentic to someone like I. The fact that Stalina was supposedly fluent in English even before arriving in NYC because her father read to her in English forty some years prior to that, is completely ludicrous, which did not add to the feeling of plausibility either. The heroine comes across as one-dimensional and curiously immature for her age. Even the ending is totally unremarkable and flat.
In the end, I just could not get into the story because to the relentlessly negative tone. For those not turned off by it, this would probably be a pretty good book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Different story about a woman immigrating from Soviet Umion. I would not read again.Published 3 months ago by ,Janice Felipa
I thought at first I wasn't going to like this book, but then I realized that it is funny and tragic, too, offering a glimpse of the issues of Russian immigrants while relating the... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Not my normal genre. This book came with my first Kindle. Was fascinating look into what Russian citizens had lived through during WWII and their lives afterwards trying to... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
Entertaining, easy read...sometimes just need something different to read.Published 9 months ago by Stephanie_MA
This novel has it all... humor, drama, philosophy. The pacing is perfect. The motivation for flashbacks is perfect. It makes for a great telling device! Read morePublished 9 months ago by Robert Balton
Quirky enough to get me interested and once I got to know her it was a good read.Published 11 months ago by Alicyn
Simplistic storyline but interesting enough to keep one enmeshed. I enjoyed the Russian culture's constant references to Vodka integrated into the story. Read morePublished 13 months ago by SW