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Petropolis Paperback – March 25, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Ulinich's debut novel traces Russian-Jewish Sasha Goldberg's screwball coming-of-age and search for her long-ago disappeared father. Sasha, living with her mother, Lubov, in the gloomy Siberian town of Asbestos 2, is a disappointment to Lubov. Not musically inclined and is too chubby for ballet, Sasha is a messy, uncoordinated child with a passion for drawing. After Sasha is accepted into a local, cash-strapped art school, she becomes pregnant and has a daughter, Nadia. Though Sasha wants to raise Nadia, Lubov forces Sasha to attend an art school in Moscow and leave Nadia behind with her. Once in Moscow, Sasha begins scheming her way to America—where she believes her father lives—and soon is on a plane to Phoenix, Ariz., as a 17-year-old mail-order bride. Sasha flees after a year to Chicago, where she works as a live-in maid for the wealthy Tarakan family, though she is little more than the family's "pet Soviet Jew." Sasha's salvation lies in Jake Tarakan, the Tarakan's wheelchair-bound 18-year-old son, who helps Sasha locate her father. Though Sasha's mental letters home and some timeline hiccups work against the momentum, cultural assimilation humor is the order of the day, and Ulinich provides it by the bucketful. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* When a coming-of-age novel is truly different, it can send shock waves through unsuspecting readers. This brave blend of satire, farce, and heart-wrenching realism delivers the necessary voltage to do just that. First-novelist Ulinich sets out as if she intends to lampoon the whole idea of coming-of-age. Teenager Sasha Goldberg, a pudgy parody of the archetypal outsider, is a mixed-race Russian Jew living with her mother in a mining camp called Asbestos 2, once a Stalinist model town but now a postglasnost embarrassment. When your entire universe, internal and external, needs escaping from, the very notion of escape becomes a bad joke. So it is for Sasha ("For a Jew, you sure look like a Negro," one of her friends tells her), whose every attempt at escape leads to an even more absurd reality than the one she left behind. A furtive romance results in pregnancy, but when her mother usurps the baby, Sasha decamps to America as a mail-order bride, landing in Arizona with an old-school husband whose Crown Victoria "is as long as Sasha Goldberg's whole life." From there it's off to Chicago, where, as the "pet Soviet Jew" of a rich Orthodox couple, Sasha trades one kind of servitude for another. One more escape lands our heroine in Brooklyn, in search of her father, who abandoned the family when she was an infant. Ulinich plays this absurdist immigrant's journey for all its black-comedic potential, but she never loses sight of Sasha's bedrock humanity. Her triumphs are attenuated at every turn by lingering levels of despair, but her ability to find a pulse of life in even the most outrageous turns of fortune lifts the novel as far beyond parody as it is beyond convention. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The author weaves her story from the threads of many unexpected existences: one of the off-spring of a young African visitor to an international friendship event and a young Russian girl who briefly enjoyed his friendship, way back when the USSR courted the third world. His life merges with the fate of one of the now adult children of the intelligensia stranded in an outpost of Siberia that had been left to a slow death after its factory closed. She is the mother of our main character, at first seemingly a heartless bitch but she really believes that she can save her daughter from what she herself had to suffer.
The utter deprivation of the population of Asbestos 2 is described in a non-sentimental way, where you are reminded that daily human life has its ups and downs no matter where the seed that we are, happends to be planted. A babuska is able to give the love that her granddaughter does not seem to be getting from her own mother.Teen-age hormones are not much different than anywhere else, and the forgotten teachers at a basement art school still try to really teach a new generation in spite of everything.
While at least one of our Russian readers found the picture that was painted of life in Asbetos 2 to be rather offensive as a picture of Russia, others pointed out that the next segment which takes place in Arizona, to which our heroine escapes as a mail-order bride (after hearing that a husband is not a luxury but rather a form of transportation), is not too flattering a picture of the US either - if you take the tale as a generalization rather than one amazing account of this human existence of ours.
I do not regret having read it twice.
The book's plot takes you to five major cities (and a few smaller ones) on two continents while following the main character on her journey from Siberia to the United States. You would think there's too much plot to fit in one novel, yet the book doesn't feel like it's bursting at the seams. You really get to know the characters and the places, to the point where if you've never been to Russia, you really get a feeling for the place, the pace of life there, etc (and if you've never been to the US, you do for it as well.)