Finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
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.
Gorokhova, the author of A Mountain of Crumbs, a memoir of growing up in Soviet Russia, recreates, in this engaging new work, her first experience of America in 1980 as a 20-something teacher who hastily married an American academic. She admits she was simply eager to get away from the controlling clutches of her motherland and her mother. With wry, unswervingly honest observer's eye, Gorokhova chronicles the increasing strangeness of her new country as she is overwhelmed by choices at the shoe store and the supermarket in Austin, Tex., where she lives with her husband Robert, who is unemotional and detached. She goes on interviews in a homespun sundress, trying to hide her sense of being "marked" as a Soviet exile, a "person with a dubious past." Gorokhova is eventually sent to live with Robert's psychotherapist mother in Princeton, N.J., and there, she falls in love with the more understanding Andy. With Andy's encouragement, she quits working as a server at Beefsteak Charlie's (she is embarrassingly bad at it) and starts teaching English to Russian immigrants at a business institute in New York City. This work from a young immigrant's point of view is both wondrous and stinging.