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All Russians Love Birch Trees Paperback – January 7, 2014

3.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Grjasnowa is an astounding debut novel, both political and personal, sexual and full of grief. It captures beautifully and viscerally what it’s like to lose your home due to traumatic events, what it’s like to be neither a tourist nor a native no matter where you go looking for what’s missing in you. To paraphrase Yevtushenko’s famous line – borders are scars on the face of the planet. This book proves it, and how.” —Ismet Prcic, author of Shards, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year

“Olga Grjasnowa paints a searing portrait of young adulthood in this ambitious novel, as we follow her characters from Frankfurt to Jerusalem, from their haunted pasts and into their uncertain futures. Darkly funny and totally devastating, All Russians Love Birch Trees will haunt you.” —Leigh Stein, author of The Fallback Plan

"A thoughtful, melancholy study of loss." —Kirkus

"[A] provocative first novel." —O Magazine

“[Grjasnowa] reveals herself to be an expert chronicler of modern displacement and of the scars left by the wars that followed the Soviet Union’s breakup.” —Publishers Weekly

“An extremely compelling read… just because you have an unusual background, doesn't mean you know how to tell a good story, and this is something that Grjasnowa certainly knows how to do…Grjasnowa has strong voice, which she has applied to a very ambitious and seemingly personal subject, to give us an admirable debut novel…a truly gifted writer…[who] has a very bright future ahead of her...”—Yahoo! Voices

“We know about the immigrant perspective from an American perspective, but Grjasnowa gives us a fresh, important understanding from the European perspective…Grjasnowa tells her story effectively because she works through the personal, which results in a touching and thought-provoking debut novel.”—Library Journal

"Grjasnowa elegantly balances explanations and demonstrations so that Masha's world comes to feel almost familiar. All Russians Love Birch Trees is part of a new global literature that sees foreignness as a condition of familiarity, that understands alienation as a way of life." —Shelf Awareness

“Here the world comes to you, as it never has appeared to you in a novel. With power, with wit, with wisdom and clarity, with subtlety and grief.” —Elmar Krekeler, Die Welt
 
“Olga Grjasnowa writes from the nerve center of her generation.” —Ursula März, Die Zeit

“[T]he protagonist is…twenty-something, darkly funny, adrift. But then tragedy strikes and the novel takes a turn towards grief…Grjasnowa’s descriptions felt fresh.” —Warby Parker, The Blog

"Grjasnowa...imbues the narrative with a unique set of circumstances related to national and cultural identity...express[ing] the tumultuousness and indirect trajectories of youth against a world that’s anything but fixed." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[All Russians Love Birch Trees] is an insightful look at three countries, at the experience of being an immigrant, and at the pain of loss. It’s a quiet yet rich novel that speaks to experiences often not represented in literature and also to the universal feelings of grief and isolation.” —Bustle

"Masha, an Azerbaijani-born student living in Germany, flees to Israel after her boyfriend's death, in this provocative first novel." –Oprah.com
 
"[A] fascinating tale in which the violent background supersedes the protagonist who takes readers as a person without a homeland from Azerbaijan to Germany to Israel... Timely with the immigration debate in America, readers will appreciate the harrowing journey." – Genre Go Round Reviews

“This is a hard and harrowing tale about losing your sense of identity….[Olga Grjasnowa’s] strong voice makes Masha and the rest of cast come across as real multidimensional characters…tackling always tricky task of describing one's life in a multicultural society and the resulting internal turmoil which comes from having your own cultural identity displaced.  All Russians Love Birch Trees…is a stunning novel about loss—one which heralds the arrival of a remarkably gifted author.” —Upcoming4.Me

“Rendered in lively prose.” —The Free Lance-Star

"Azerbaijan-born German novelist Olga Grjasnowa explores this terrain of displacement and loss with an unsparing vividness...All Russians Love Birch Trees was lauded by critics when it first appeared in Germany, winning its author the Klaus Michael Kuhn prize for a debut novel and a place on the long list for the Deutscher Buchpreis (the German equivalent of the Man Booker). The novel was also adapted for stage and performed at the Maxim Gorky Theater in Berlin. Grjasnowa deserves this acclaim not only for her fearless exploration of one of the most fractious issues in contemporary Germany, but also for her stellar literary gifts... All Russians Love Birch Trees is much more than a political tract. Masha is a beautifully compelling character, someone who has witnessed horrors, and faced difficulties that would have beaten down many other people, but who moves on with a relentless determination." —The Rumpus

“In All Russians Love Birch Trees, Grjasnowa…exposes not just the limitations of identity but also the violence it imposes.” –Public Books

About the Author

Olga Grjasnowa was born in 1984 in Baku, Azerbaijan, grew up in the Caucasus, and has spent extended periods in Poland, Russia, and israel. She moved to Germany at the age of twelve and is a graduate of the German institute for Literature/Creative Writing in Leipzig. In 2010 she was awarded the Dramatist Prize of the Wiener Wortstätten for her debut play, Mitfühlende Deutsche (Compassionate Germans). She is currently studying dance science at the Berlin Free University.
 
Eva Bacon studied German and English Literature at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and has worked as an international literary scout. This is her first translation of a novel. She lives in Brooklyn.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590515846
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590515846
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Maria, known as Masha, is a Jewish girl from in Baku, Azerbaijan, who fled with her family to Germany in the 1990s. From birth she was always been an outsider. And no amount of her learning so many languages - including Russian, Arabic, German and French - ever made her feel like she fit in. The other outcasts she knows - Beirut born Sami who has problems with his visa to the US, and Cem the German born Turk who she cannot love - don't make things better. But with her German boyfriend Elias - or as she calls him, Elisha - she has found some refuge. So when he breaks his femur playing soccer, and the subsequent complications kill him, she's thrown into turmoil that she can't cope with, together with guilt she can't escape from. This is the debut novel "All Russians Love Birch Trees" by Olga Grjasnowa.

Despite what I read about this book from the publisher's blurb, I didn't find this story to have much humor or irony in it. In fact, I found it to be a very harsh and difficult tale, which was at the same time an extremely compelling read. This may be partially because, from what I can discern, quite a bit of this story is autobiographical. But just because you have an unusual background, doesn't mean you know how to tell a good story, and this is something that Grjasnowa certainly knows how to do. What is more, she does so without trying to whitewash anything, while at the same time keeping a serene undertone to her voice that almost belies the chaos that Masha is going on around her, and in her head.

This contrast is a perfect parallel to Masha herself. On the one hand, it seems like Masha is someone who - under normal circumstances - would be a completely likable and congenial person.
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I'm not sure what the author's point was. I'll be hearing it reviewed in a few days by the person who suggested it, and I'll have more to add at that time. It is a good read. The reviewer was as baffled as I was. Two things occur to me. Is something lost in the translation into English, and/or does the story represent a confusion of an element of society that can't find itself, no matter what part of the world they live in. As long as it was an unusual plot, it was worth the purchase through Amazon.
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Format: Paperback
In the 1990s, over 100,000 "Russian" Jews migrated from the Soviet Union to Germany. At first, their presence in Germany was a social and political curiosity, but 15-25 years later, some of them have had a real cultural impact. When "All Russians Love Birch Trees" came out, many reviewers in Germany praised Olga Grjasnowa as a fresh and authentic voice emerging from that immigrant community, and "All Russians Love Birch Trees" was supposed to be *the* novel of Russian Jews who came of age in Germany after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With those expectations, I read this book and was very disappointed.

The main character is Masha, a Russian Jew whose parents left post-Soviet Azerbaijan for Germany. Like so many Russian Jews, her family did not wish to go to Israel and could not go to America. But Germany welcomed them, and they settled in Frankfurt. That being said, this novel is only tangentially about the Russian Jews' experience of immigration and acculturation. It is really about one woman's dealing with grief (and her not dealing with her psychological meltdown).

Rather than a real exploration of the Russian Jewish immigrants' world, the story takes place among the scene of twentysomething, politically left-wing, multicultural, hipster intellectuals of Frankfurt. It focuses on an Azerbaijani Russian Jewish woman who is vaguely bisexual, fluent in half a dozen languages, and seeming at home nowhere. Her best friend is a homosexual German-born Turk. Her ex-boyfriend is half-Lebanese/half-Swiss, was raised in Germany, and studies in the States. They are hedonistic, and they have enormous anger about their families. They also all have great anger about Israel's dealings with the Palestinians.
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Format: Paperback
"I took a peanut, felt the salty taste on my tongue, and chewed it up."

"I found his nose very erotic. It had a little bump that he'd acquired in a fight in a rural disco that he had started himself."

"Sami stirred his coffee noisily. He stood up, opened the fridge, took out some jam and put it on the table."

"At the cash register I got a pack of cigarettes and smiled. My fingers drummed a march on the conveyor belt."

"Shaking his head, he ran a hand through his hair. He fished a pack of dented Marlboros from his pocket, lit a cigarette, smoked it, threw it onto the ground, and crushed it with his boot."

"I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Blue dress. The music was deafening and outside it was still day."

*************************************************​

The above lines were chosen randomly from Olga Grjasnowa's debut novel, ALL RUSSIANS LOVE BIRCH TREES, a meandering story of Masha, a gifted student of languages, born in Baku of Russian Jewish parents, living in Germany, bound for Israel. I call these quotes plot-stoppers, because they never add much to the narrative. They are just showy little irrelevant details that left me scratching my head and thinking, Huh?

These annoying little "nits" of nothing are scattered throughout the narrative - scores, perhaps even hundreds of them. They add nothing and often just stop any rare forward momentum the story might have gained. Such derivative, MFA-factory affectations drove me crazy. They were so off-putting I quickly lost interest in the story. I managed to struggle through nearly two hundred pages, before giving up and skimming through to the not very satisfactory ending.
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