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The Russian Word for Snow: A True Story of Adoption Paperback – February 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Newman, following her mother's death from breast cancer, experienced a change of heart about her long-held determination to remain childless. She and her husband, both in their 40s, embarked on fertilization treatments until they discovered an agency that arranges the adoption of foreign children. Once they saw videotape of a dark-eyed little Russian boy, they were determined that he was their son and began a six-month process of international adoption. The couple traveled to Russia just before the nation's first democratic election and witnessed the uncertainties of life there, and the ebb and flow of anti-American sentiment. Fearful that political turmoil could derail their adoption, Newman and her husband desperately sought to achieve a balance between pressuring and cajoling their intermediaries. In this first-person account, Newman conveys the emotional roller coaster of dealing with the ponderous adoption bureaucracy--bribes expected and gifts required--before securing the release of their son, Alex, whose original name was the Russian word for snow. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A nail-biting adoption saga with a happy ending.” ―People Magazine

The Russian Word for Snow is about the alchemy of desire, courage, grace; about the buried secrets of a foreign land; about a little boy in a Russian crib who tangles his fingers in his new mother's hair. Their story is compelling. It is poetry. It is true. It held me transfixed as I read.” ―Beth Kephart, author of the 1998 National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun

“The couple's fight to bring Alex home after months of dashed hopes and bureaucratic snafus vividly illustrates the perils of foreign adoption.” ―People Magazine

“Newman's story, told with understated grace, reminds us that parenthood is an internal journey not measurable by blood or footsteps; that life with a child is a daily opportunity for mutual redemption in moments both unique and fleeting.” ―Kate Moses, columnist and co-editor of Mothers Who Think

“On one level, this is one woman's story of going to Russia to adopt a little boy and experiencing the wrenching, exuberant passions of falling love with a child. On another level, it's every mother's story--our doubts and our fears about what kind of mother we will make. The writing is compelling, and straight from the heart.” ―Adair Lara, San Francisco Chronicle columnist and author of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go

“Beautifully written, intimately portrayed, it's an extraordinary tale of the power of a mother's love.” ―Karin Evans, author of The Lost Daughters of China


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143000454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283414
  • ASIN: 0312283415
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,281,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I love to write--and read!--historical fiction because it gives me the opportunity to experience what it must have been like to have lived in another time, and often another place. One of the inspirations for my new novel, 'A Master Plan for Rescue,' was the story of the St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees that sailed from Hitler's Germany in 1939. Though these 900 refugees held visas for Cuba, they were refused permission to land, and spent days sailing up and down the coast of Florida, hoping to find a home in America. They were refused there as well, and eventually had to set sail back to Germany. I wanted to know what it was like to have been on that boat, so I placed a character on it.

I was also inspired to write 'A Master Plan for Rescue' by my son, who was 12 when I began the book. Boys at that age stand equally in childhood and adulthood. One minute, they're fixing something on your computer, and the next, they're asking you to buy them Buzz Lightyear towels for summer camp. I wanted to write from that imaginative world, so I created Jack, my main character, and had him lose the person he loved most.

I'm not only an author, I am also the founder of Lit Camp, a juried writers conference that takes place every May in the Northern California Wine Country. We open for submissions every October 1, and stay open until the end of January.

Lit Camp also provides community for writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have writing meet-ups, and our own reading series, The Basement Series, where emerging writers get the opportunity to read on stage with published authors.

You can find out more about Lit Camp at

I'm now working on a new historical novel that will take place in 1920s Ireland and New York. Can't wait to share it with you!

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As an adoptive father of a Russian boy, I had mixed feelings about this book. Ms. Newman has a wonderful way of painting scenes with words; some of those scenes truly touched me and brought back memories of my wife's and my own adoption experience.
However, if you're looking for a "how to" book on Russian adoption, or even a reason to support same, don't look here. Ms. Newman's lack of homework, her obvious disdain for Russia and its people, and her eagerness to leave the country left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
I was horrified to see the crass way in which she refers to the many people she met on her journey. I almost wonder why she bothered to write the book. My 3-star rating = 4 for her writing style, - 1 for the disservice her book (and the attention it has received) does to Russian adoption.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Anne D. Harman on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a single adoptive mother of a baby girl from Russia I found the author's experience in stark contrast to my own in Russia in the spring of 2000. What the book jacket promised as a story "told with humor and grace" in actuality read like a bitter, close-minded story of two people who weren't open to the experience of their son's homeland and the different and interesting ways of its people. There was only sarcastic humor, based on cultural differences that the author seemed uninterested in tolerating or understanding. There is always grace in the making of a family, but precious little of it in this book. Do not rely on this book to be a guide on Russian adoption. Ms. Newman's experience is not at all common to what I and my adoptive parent friends encountered. Enjoy the book for its vibrant descriptions and for the story of this particular family that had to endure difficulty to find each other. Affiliate yourself with a reputable agency and proceed on a happy and open-minded journey to bring home your child.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately, I am forced to agree with the not-so-complimentary reviews this book has produced so far. This couple's lack of preparation and research about the multitude of issues involved with international adoption, and their "ugly-American" approach to dealing with their Russian facilitators is largely to blame for their difficult experiences. There are four things that shocked me about their approach. First, they did not appear to research the background of their facilitator, nor have any idea that an experienced, ethical, and accredited agency could have eliminated the large majority of their problems. Second, they did not appear to have any understanding about the psychology of institutionalized children, and so were completely unprepared when Alex was terrified of bathwater or would not feed himself pieces of banana. The author's frustration at Alex's behavior led her to say to him: "Its just banana, for chrissake!" Not very helpful for a terrified, developmentally delayed child who has just been removed from the only environment he has ever known. Third, they appeared to have no cultural sensitivity whatsoever to the daily difficulties that Russians face -- things that most of us in this country can barely imagine. "I hate this country (Russia) and I hate the people," says the author. While her frustration with the delays with getting Alex are totally understandable, her lack of respect or understanding for another culture is appalling, particularly given the fact that she is creating an international family. Fourth, this couple actually considered kidnapping Alex and trying to illegally smuggle him over the border to Finland. Clearly they had no idea that they would never be able to get him into the US without the correct Russian paperwork.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By AnnieR on August 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
I agree with other posters that while this book is a gripping read, written with a cool, flowing style, and tells a powerfully compelling story, it is fundamentally flawed as it is the story of a woman who is unappealing in so many ways. Launching herself on the goal of motherhood after 40 years of insisting she didn't want kids, in the wake of her mother's death (the mother also sounds like a piece of work), this author is clearly working out her own psychological problems. She drags her wonderfully supportive husband through the emotional roller coaster as she considers IVF, only to fling herself into a situation where she is working with people one step up from incompetant to adopt a baby whose appeal to her is clearly rooted in the fact that he looks like her and her husband. I was thoroughly irritated by her and her issues.

The story, though, is compelling and gripping (although I find myself rooting for the narrator more to benefit the baby and the husband than her) and the writing is easy to read. I went through the whole book in one sitting in 2.5 hours.

I give it 4 stars for the story and the read. If this was fiction, I would have given it less because the main character was so unappealing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Newman sets a good example of how not to proceed with an international adoption. No background checks of the agency, no research done, impetuous trip, demanding and complaining...pretty much the ugly American.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Locococo on August 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
but I can't say that I learned too much from this book other than how not to proceed with an international adoption. She seemed to have approached the adoption from a purely emotional standpoint, with very little objectivity. She and her husband were the worst guests in a foreign country that I've read about in awhile, and I truly hope that their son is not suffering the effects of his parents' self-centeredness.
All of that said, I give this book three stars for its great writing style; it really was a good read. Also, this is one of the only books on the market dealing specifically with Russian adoption, and I appreciate the author's attempt to fill some of that void. If you are interested in reading one of the best books I've read on contemporary Russia, post-Soviet era, read The Fire Escape is Locked for Your Safety by Molly Baier. It's an American lawyer's account of her trip across Russia, from the Ukraine to Vladivostok, and includes some hilarious interviews with different Russians.
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