Russian Tattoo: A Memoir
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From the bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs, a “brilliant and illuminating” (BookPage) portrait of mothers and daughters that reaches from Cold War Russia to modern-day New Jersey to show how the ties that hold you back can also teach you how to start over.
Elena Gorokhova moves to the US in her twenties to join her American husband and to break away from her mother, a mirror image of her Soviet Motherland: overbearing, protective, and difficult to leave. Before the birth of Elena’s daughter, her mother comes to help care for the baby and stays for twenty-four years, ordering everyone to eat soup and wear a hat, just as she did in Leningrad. Russian Tattoo is the story of a unique balancing act and a family struggle: three generations of strong women with very different cultural values, all living under the same roof and battling for control. As Elena strives to bridge the gap between the cultures of her past and present and find her place in a new world, she comes to love the fierce resilience of her Soviet mother when she recognizes it in her American daughter.
“Gorokhova writes about her life with a novelist’s gift,” says The New York Times, and her second memoir is filled with empathy, insight, and humor.
along, she looked anxious for the few moments it took me to respond, as if she entertained the possibility that I could have said no. On our arrival at Pulkovo Airport we found out that, in addition to the school graduation festival, the week we chose to visit my hometown was the week of the International Economic Forum, when police-escorted motorcades whip through the city center, closing roads and clogging streets. Still, it was the prime week of white nights, and for the graduation fireworks
ready to file the meaning into a compartment of his scientific brain. If I could recite the definition of toska, in English or Russian, there would probably be no Chekhov or The Three Sisters, or the entire pantheon of Russian literature Robert is so keen on deciphering. It is a paradox, really: for him to understand Russian literature, he needs to know the definition of toska, while it is precisely trying to shoehorn toska into a definition that guarantees the failure of that understanding.
In my head the music starts when the doors open and my first customers walk in. I am as prepared to be a waitress as I would be to teach a class in English grammar, I remind myself, as the ballroom orchestra violins in my head glide to a dizzying high note, as the hostess seats four people at my first table, three at my second, and then four more at my third and fourth. Men wear ironed shirts and expressions of anticipating a good time; women have high heels and the rich hair I envy. I take
I’m offering you everything you wanted.” Robert turns around, takes off his glasses, and starts wiping them with his shirttail, as if everything at this moment depended on the clarity of his vision. “You are a fraud,” he says, without looking at me. “An impostor, a person I don’t even know. Maybe someone I never knew.” Then he returns to striding back and forth, taking injured, baffled steps, every few moments coming to a wall. Where was this fragile gait before and why didn’t I see it? I watch
earlier that Andy and I were planning to go to London—the city both Nina and I know by heart from our school lectures—as soon as we could scrape together the price of two airfares and a hotel. I won’t make any comments about England since we’ve decided that it simply doesn’t exist. It isn’t there, along with France, Switzerland, and everything else to the west of us. The only place that is real is our indestructible Union of Soviet free republics. And one last thing: it made me a little sad to