A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, Ann Goldstein (Translator)

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I had nothing else, in that darkness inhabited by breath.

After thirteen years, a young girl who has lived with the love and privileges of an adored single child learns that she is being returned to another mother. No more will she live by  the ocean, with beautiful clothes and clean bedding, now her sleep will be warmed by the body of a sister and bed-wetting. Her life is like a dark fairy-tale, a princess forced to live in poverty, as if punished for some unknown deed. What has she done to be punished so? What sense in living in such filth and destitution, with parents who don’t even really seem to want her back? No longer will she spend happy days in the sun with her best friend Patrizia, nor can her friend’s family save her from this senseless exile.

Her little sister Adriana may be uncultured and ignorant but she is fierce and has a hunger for the the world, more she longs for a closeness with her big sister, the  Arminuta (girl returned). Vincenzo, the eldest brother is a mystery, who causes an eruption of confusing emotions within her when he isn’t off with the gypsies or getting beaten by his father. Each day, she longs for her ‘other mother’, she must have had a reason for giving her back, she was ill, could she be now on her deathbed and in desperate need of her care? All she knows is, her ‘real mother’ doesn’t seem to care about her at all, this useless city daughter who can’t even pluck a chicken nor perform domestic tasks. Her real family lives in a foreign world, boisterous, crude, sometimes violent and leaving her deeply lonely despite the presence of many siblings. This feels like a house of shame, parents who have more children than they can afford.

She wants to return to that other life, for now the only way is to relive the memories, telling Adriana about the delicious fresh fish from the market, fish her sibling has never had… no, for them it’s only tuna from a can. Her sister longs for nothing more than to be shown a glimpse of that life, the freedom. Then there is the baby, the youngest of the brood, a child that aches with sickness caused by desperate hunger. A different child, there is so much she doesn’t understand nor perceive about this family, swallowed as she is by her own grief and rejection. Then there is the school, here she is as much an outsider as at home, far more educated than her peers. This is yet another opportunity for her devoted sister to look out for her, whether she likes it or not. Her sister will take hits for her at home too, has protective leanings for her ‘special’ sister, who mustn’t ever be beaten. She can’t do anything right by her mother, doesn’t have the practical sense vital to their existence. Her mother is gruff, meaner than her ‘seaside mamma’ but it’s been a hard life, one that misery has seen fit to hover over. Tragedy isn’t finished with her family. There are also many things she doesn’t know about her biological mother and the story of why she was initially given up.

She must learn to get used to this new life, one that she knows she doesn’t belong in, despite her dream of returning to her true mother. “It’s an enduring emptiness, which I know but can’t get past.” What is mother? Will she ever know again, it’s meaning? Strange to come to love the siblings she learned of so late in her life, regardless of their differences.

It is a story of family and of identity, but one could say class too. Adriana is the heart of it and the beauty of the tale is more in sisterhood, at least that was my takeaway. This is the English debut of the Italian author Donatella Di Pietrantonio, it is beautifully written and engaging. We feel as equally lost and determined as all the characters. Our narrator’s mother does seem to resent her Arminuta, as if it’s easier to feel disgusted by her ‘city, upper class ways’ than own the reasons why her child doesn’t fit into their hardscrabble surroundings. It is a sad novel, and I look forward to more by the author.

Publication Date: July 2, 2019

Europa Editions

 

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Keeping Lucy: A Novel by T. Greenwood

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She’ll be feeble-minded, no more intelligent than a dog. The hardship she will bring to your family- women never realize the impact that raising an imbecile has on a marriage. On the other children. You must think of your son.

October 1969, Ginny Richardson gives birth to a baby girl born with Down Syndrome. While still in a haze from the drugs administered, the doctor, her husband and his family make the decision to send Lucy away to Willowridge, a school that can serve the ‘many many challenges’ she will face. Some of which, they convince her, are heart defects, vision and hearing difficulties just to name a few. She will never be a normal child, she will never be able to interact, no better than a dog, there is no point in being involved in the child’s life.  It’s too late to protest, it’s all been arranged, the child is already gone.

Life goes on, Ginny raises her first-born son Peyton while Ab’s time is eaten up by working for his father’s firm, the path set for him to become district attorney. No one runs her family quite like her overbearing father-in-law, the force behind her husband Ab’s rise. All of that is about to be threatened when her friend  Marsha calls to inform her that Willowridge, the very “school” institution her baby Lucy was placed in, is being sued after a local reporter in Amherst went undercover, exposing the horrors within. Ginny’s first thought it “Ab can fix this”, he has the legal knowledge, the power of his family… surely he will know what to do, he won’t risk their own child being abused, living in the squalid conditions the exposé revealed, will he? Maybe her own marriage should be examined, maybe she doesn’t really know her husband at all.

With the support from her friend Marsha, she will journey to the school and see for herself just what is going on, visit her child for the first time in two years since she was taken away, her father-in-law be damned! Imagine the shock when Lucy isn’t quite the ‘feeble minded child’ they swore she would be. Naturally readers will be horrified at the very idea of a mother giving up, and without a lick of fight, her own newborn baby girl. Times were different, I remember my mother telling me how poorly she was treated as a young mother in 1971 when she birthed my sister, how condescending doctors could be, and that’s with a healthy delivery. It was a lot less inviting and open as it is today, women were often put in a ‘twilight sleep’, and it was a sterile, surgical setting then, a far cry from birthing rooms now where family can support you. Doctors were far more authoritative, patients were in the dark often and it is no surprise women would cave to their ‘superior knowledge’. It’s hard coming from a time where we are swamped with knowledge and advocates, fierce about the rights of those with special needs to fathom how a mother can be talked out of keeping her child, but it happened. Ginny bends to her husband and his father, highly educated men themselves are sold on the idea that all hope is lost and it’s impossible to keep such a child alive… in fact, they are sure baby Lucy is lucky if she lives only a few years. If she does survive, surely it will only be because of the full care she will receive at Willowridge, care and time Ginny and Ab could no way manage to give their needy child. Ginny has no reason to not believe them.

The truth is, such a child shames her father-in-law, doesn’t fit in with his perfect family. The beauty of the novel is the moments Ginny begins to fall in love with her little girl and finds the courage to fight for her even with every resource out of her reach, the law and family against her. Her husband infuriated me through much of the novel, but how do people become victims? They are often raised under the thumbs of tyrannical parents, cowered, lacking confidence, certainly it seems that Ab, despite his success is still trying to attain his father’s respect. Ab isn’t the only one in the family who has submitted to his father’s rule.

When Ginny learns the secret of who the people defending Willowridge against the parents who have filed a class action suit are, her fury grows. How can she fight when the law isn’t on her side, when she doesn’t have money. Despite this swell of love for her child, so too does she love her husband, her six-year-old son Peyton and her good life, but sometimes you have to make a choice, especially when your child has no voice of their own! People are either with you, or they are against you. Sometimes, you have to find the strength to go against those who know best.

These are imperfect characters, and shamed by their choices. The truth is, the only characters my love went to was Lucy and Peyton. I would love to see a lot more interaction between them, he went from being an only child to suddenly being big brother to a special little girl who will need him for the rest of her life. It’s a unique relationship. I think I would have liked to see more fight against husband and wife, I wanted to see Ginny in all her avenging glory, especially towards her father-in-law, but maybe that’s just my thirst for drama and justice. Ginny was too much the type of woman who just floated along and let others decide everything and I can’t think of a horror worse than that. I just couldn’t understand how in two years, as a mother, she didn’t go visit her child. I understand she was bullied into giving her up, but in all that time after the birth she wouldn’t be raging against being denied the chance to see her? Feeble minded or not, hell couldn’t keep me away from my child. It would eat away at my mind, soul every day of my life. It’s hard to relate to such a weak character, but at least she finally finds some backbone.

Strange, our throw away society, that takes anyone who is different and tries to forget they exist at all. Times are changing, in many parts of the world, but the true horror is that abuses happen all the time, not just to children with special needs, but to the elderly and ill more often than we want to admit. This novel will be a great choice for serious discussion.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

St. Martin’s Press

 

The Valedictorian of Being Dead The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong

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“I can’t really describe it,” I mumbled to her when she called me to ask what was wrong. “I feel like the Frankenstein monster. I mean, I feel like I died and someone brought me back to life.”

What’s wonderful about The Valedictorian of Being Dead is the honest day-to-day terror of living with severe depression because it exposes the brutal reality only those suffering through it can attempt to explain. Imagine a depression so horrifying that you are willing to die again and again, in an experimental treatment, to cure yourself of wanting to take your own life. What are the options when the drugs don’t work? When you have children to raise as a single parent? When depression is a life sentence and you can lose your children if your ex uses your mental health as a means to take your children away, would you risk it all?

Heather is the perfect candidate for the experiment, chemically induced coma approximating brain death. With a family history of depression, it’s an inheritance more people struggle through than openly talk about. As if mental illness is a dirty little secret, and is it any wonder with the cruel treatment people have received throughout history, and in the not so distant past? Imagine putting your faith in an experiment that makes you feel like Frankenstein’s Monster. Heather’s blog has brought attention to the highs and lows of her own mental health, I hadn’t heard about it until I read this book.

Fear of the unknown, will my brain survive this fully intact? Will I lose my memories or time? Anyone who has ever encountered any sort of brain confusion can relate to the sheer terror of that rabbit hole. If she wakes up at all and survives the coma that is and not just once, oh no! Ten treatments, my friends, ten!  The writing isn’t always perfect and that’s okay because this book is about hope and sharing, it’s a fight  for a life without debilitating depression and in turn, a chance to finally truly live. It takes courage, and support, which is something Heather isn’t great at asking for, but how many mothers are? Too, Heather allows the reader to be privy to her innermost fears, thoughts and memories of her past, losing her voice in relationships going all the way back to discipline from her father, he of the ‘snap out of it’ answer to depression so many people have. Why is it today, there is still so much misinformation and ignorance, shame in admitting the brain is as much a part of our body as any other organ and mental illness is a disease? How can we successfully treat that which is unacknowledged? Ignoring it or ordering your loved ones to  ‘snap out of it’ isn’t going to work, it’s not something people choose, until it’s you, it’s so hard for people to believe. I think often other’s reactions are fear based. There is still a stigma and shame on us as a society for that.

An interesting medical experiment that shares the story of the human being taking part in it.

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket books

 

 

 

If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail Rosewood

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My mother had no daughter. It was her gift to me.

The novel begins in Vietnam as our young narrator is reunited with her mother, living under protection inside a military camp after she comes to the dangerous attention of the Prime Minister for her work as an energy consultant “bringing electricity to hundreds of districts in Vietnam”. Angering those corrupted by greed who would rather abuse the funds by “buying defunct equipment” keeping the wealth for themselves,her only option had been to seek refuge, leaving behind her daughter. Her lieutenant friend saves her, but she must remain loyal to the President. Cassette tapes were their means of communication during the separation but now she is living with her mother among other families under military protection as well. Lonely, she spends her time being cared for by ‘my soldier’, there to take care of her every need, emotional and otherwise, more nurturing than her distant mother. Her mother’s overload of information a jumbled mess to her child’s mind, “I wanted only to be held, to press my nose to her stomach,” she feels like a failure, a poor student, worse a bed wetter. To no longer be given away, she promises to be good, oblivious to her mother’s political games, not understanding that the only reason they are alive is because of her mother’s abandonment.

A child of loneliness her entire existence, everything changes when she meets ‘little girl’. The two sometimes merging into one, making up stories for each other, giving funerals for bugs, playing games and sharing in the disgusting shame of the adults. Little girl is destined for poverty and ignorance, and yet she is the deepest, earliest connection to love she will ever know. Their love is a sisterhood that will haunt her for years to come. The past becomes ash when her mother manages to help her escape to the United States to begin her second life leaving behind her best friend.

Part Two or second life to my thinking, she is now a grown adult recalling the punishing years of moving through different homes of friends, families, her mother’s connections in America, never fitting in. Longing for information about her mother “lost in her fiction”, trying to follow Vietnam’s politics, knowing she is alive only through second hand sources, sorting through gossip online, life is again solitary. She meets a woman named Lilah in Montauk, New York, echoing the immediate bond she once shared with ‘little girl’. Pulled into her escapades and ‘affairs’, passion grows between them until their lives merge. Lilah has wounds that fester but her eccentricities and boundless energy hide the sorrow. “I was drawn to her because people are drawn to uncertainty, the abyss.” When around husband Jon, Lilah is less free, diminished somehow. The two become three and she surrenders herself in their hands. This is where the story explores the meaning of friendship, love, all-consuming grief and the maniacal nature of fate. She is between two places always, until tragedy strikes and life comes full circle in Part Three. It is a strange and tragic tale. The defilement of both the narrator and her friend at the start of the novel had me gutted, the horrors always eat away at the children when it comes to politics, don’t they? Hard to read, but closing your eyes changes nothing. It’s a rupture in time, the things that transpire. As a grown woman I certainly don’t make light of how mind numbing it must be to make your way through the world without the nurturing and love of parents. Tragic doing so while moving between two countries, two identities with scars and severe trauma. That is shocking enough, a child hungry for love, connection so much so that she is willing to encompass her best friend’s pain as her own, later learning to be degraded, coming of age expecting nothing as not to feel disappointment. There is another vital character later, her neighbor, and I love how they both act as ghosts in a sense for each other, but come to mean so much more. The author’s take on loss and love hit me between the eyes.  Loss… loss as ‘a fuller experience than love’ opened the floodgates for me. Whoa!

I stayed up late last night, devouring every last page and that is saying a lot as I am recovering from invasive surgery, but I was at the end and it was actually my favorite part. The beginning reads a bit differently than when our narrator is an adult, because it is told through the mist of youth, but it flows.  Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 19, 2019

Europa Editions

Feast Your Eyes: A Novel by Myla Goldberg

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Just as I was beginning to worry that waiting was all there would ever be, I picked up a camera- but you know this already. 

Myla Goldberg states in her acknowledgements that she was inspired by the life and work of people like Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Harold Feinstein (just to name a few) and it certainly shows in the creation of her fictional character, Lillian Preston. This novel is beautiful, we are able to feast our own eyes on subjects Lillian photographs as much as the life of a photographer. Rather than stating someone is a photographer, the reader is witness to the inspiration and expression of Lillian’s passions, of breaking out of her ‘cage’ when she was young, and the consequences self-expression through art costs her child and parents, anyone that is both inside or outside her orbit. Feast Your Eyes is a love story of pictures but more so of mother and daughter and it isn’t always pretty. The ending gutted me, as a mother and as a daughter because I could feel the pain of both, all the regrets.

Lillian is born with hungry eyes, her purpose is to strip people naked through her series of work, sometimes shocking and vulgar making her the ‘Worse Mother in the World’ and other times going without notice.  A field trip when she is young, a ‘rocket in her chest’ when she sees photographs hanging in museums, a pivotal moment shaping her future,  Lillian knows she will one day have her own upon such walls. Her reasons are never about attention seeking nor fame, but always telling a story, as with her most infamous photos which her daughter is haunted by. Samantha is mostly nude in the damaging series, but worse is Lillian’s abortion photo. Having grown up in the fifties, being on ‘photo safaris’ in the streets of New York Samantha grows up free to roam the city, a child that is fiercely loved by Lillian (there is no doubt about that) but whose mother’s focus is always first and foremost her camera. Her work is her life, as vital as oxygen.

“Mommy is sick”, at least a judge rules it to be true but those ‘vulgar photos verging on the pornographic (according to some)’ don’t make up the majority of Lillian’s work, so much overlooked because it isn’t ‘shocking’.  The novel finds Samantha cataloging her mother’s work for a show, as Lillian is no longer alive. We journey through the memories, the friends, the strangers and the bond between Samantha and Lillian that sours and forces Samantha’s disappearance from her mother’s life. “Mommy is sick” ends up being a precursor of sorts, but I won’t go into that. Her notoriety ruins her chances for a successful career, but still… her work continues. It is the story of artist, subjects and what it means to come of age beside a creative genius, whether the rest of the world acknowledges their gift with praise or in horror labels said artist as a degenerate. It is fiercely engaging, and Lillian is ahead of her time, as many artists are. Her eyes feast upon the world and tell stories, ‘jolt’ viewers by exposing both the obvious and unseen. In strangers, we recognize ourselves, our pride, anger, poverty, love, sickness, strength… every situation and emotion one can scrape up on the streets. Her camera is there, a witness like God, to the very last blink of Lillian’s life- that is one of the most beautiful endings I’ve read. It’s not about the posing for her, it’s not about showing the world or people as they wish to be seen but instead, as they really are.

Of course Samantha changes as she grows up, no longer an extension of her mother like the camera. As Lillian once removed herself from her own parents and their ordinary life in Cleveland, knowing she was meant ‘live differently from others’, her own girl craves stability, affection when she learns she has grandparents. That her girl could come from her body and be so vastly different is all too familiar a truth mothers must accept. Samantha and Lillian are the biggest love story in the novel, going between immense affection to resentment (Samantha), testing the waters of teenage angst, Samantha must remove herself to understand who she is without Lillian, acts out as most children do, as a form of punishment, assuming her mother is immortal and will always be there to make up with. Those photos return and drive a deep wedge.

There is a lot of story in the cataloging, and the photographs are beautifully described to the point of painting it in the reader’s mind. It’s a bohemian life, but not for show as it was for some people during certain decades, trying so hard to be ‘other than’. Lillian really is an original, and being different is always a sore spot for children. Samantha struggles with embracing and rejecting her mother as artist, but it can be no other way, for it is her mother’s very makeup. There is a line that expresses the period of time Samantha shucks off her mother, “in the spirit of self-destruction and self-discovery”, for it can be no other way.

Somehow this novel manages to be many things and Goldberg keeps it all flowing. My heart broke at the end, it’s too close to recent losses in my life. I really caught my breath at the writing, Lillian’s final moments are so much in keeping with her character. I don’t know if my review is doing this novel the justice it deserves, all I can say is I loved it. Most people fancy themselves photographers these days and it goes without saying there is an over abundance of artifice with selfies, it’s evident so many of the pictures we see are manufactured and that makes this story all the more appealing, because there is an authenticity to Lillian that does honor to the work of people like Diane Arbus. Artists who are using their medium to relate to the world, to explain it or question it in the only way they can. It can seem shallow at times, certainly a compulsion but one must recognize it is used to express love as well, as with any pictures of Samantha. One must consider the self, and how desperately Samantha wants to be her own person, it’s so hard to do when your mother has always defined you it’s just sad what it costs her, time that can’t be given back.

Yes read it!

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

Scribner

 

The Farm: A Novel by Joanne Ramos

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Ate also understood that for parents such as these, who had everything and more, being unavailable made her more desirable.

When you want a healthy, beautiful baby and you’re successful and far too busy to give birth yourself, the place to go to is Golden Oaks. Here, clients can rest assured that they have total control, a guarantee that the surrogate mother will not do anything to harm the unborn child. Only the healthiest young women are chosen to be inseminated and carry babies for the ‘richest, most important clients in the world’, and Mae (Ms. Yu) oversees it all. The Hosts are paid well once they deliver, where else can they make money this good? Certainly not as nannies, a thankless job! At Golden Oaks they go to classes to learn the ‘best-practices in pregnancy‘, their health is strictly monitored, they exercise and it is an absolute that the host must not be stressed out, ever! Jane Reyes has run out of choices to support her child after losing her job as a nanny. To leave her own baby (Amalia) with her cousin Ate, the very person who encouraged her to apply to be a host, isn’t ideal but it’s the only thing left to do. Amalia couldn’t be in better care, after all Ate is a baby nurse. As a Filipina woman, there is a class divide, when she isn’t watching (mothering) the children of wealthy white women, she is serving as a Host. She meets other Hosts while living at Golden Oaks, each with their own reasons for choosing to be surrogates.

The healthy food, the surroundings all seem wonderful at first, but then being so far away from Amalia begins to eat at her, especially when Ate starts ignoring her calls after a fight and the outside world is as distant as the moon. Strange that she is protecting this fetus like the most precious cargo on earth yet isn’t able to mother her own baby girl! Jane starts to fear things, suspect Ate of keeping her child from her,  the other hosts aren’t helping any with their own thoughts about the place. Reagan is exactly what the most important clients want white, young, beautiful and a cum laude graduate of Duke University, the perfect host until something goes wrong that begs the question, just how much do the surrogate mothers and their health matter? Then there is Lisa, who ‘mocks the process’ and sees Golden Oaks ‘The Farm” for what it is, a place that uses the women as a means to an end. Young women who are nothing more than cows. But surely, you can’t be used if it was your choice, if you are being paid and lavishly cared for! Right?

Ms. Yu runs a tight ship, in many ways she relates to the Hosts but that doesn’t mean she will let anyone ruin the business. Clients call the shots, and often in direct conflict to the needs of their hosts, as happens with Jane. What happens when she is pressed to make a choice that goes against the rules? This novel is about the limitations of class, it is a different type of slavery that happens in this story. The ending made me mad but it’s exactly what would happen. People in power manipulate because they can, those without money, without power and desperate to care for their own family do what they must, because there aren’t any other choices. It is so hard for those who have everything to comprehend what it means to not have good choices, only bad and worse to pick from. It feels like a set up, because in so many ways it is! It’s all about sacrifice. Jane isn’t the only woman who learns about sacrifice, no one has suffered more than Ate herself. Ate has told Jane, always have a backup plan because nothing is guaranteed! Things go wrong, plans dissolve.

You get both sides of the coin at the end, what it feels like to rely so much on a ‘helper’ a ‘surrogate’ and what it means to be at the mercy of your clients charity. Who needs the other more? I feel far more sympathy for Jane. It’s a fast read, motherhood is often fraught with choices made out of fear and necessity, particularly for single mothers, more so for immigrants raising children alone. All mothers can relate though, even those of privilege.

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Random House

Mother Winter: A Memoir by Sophia Shalmiyev

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Hall of Fame. Hall of Shame. That’s Motherhood…

This is a memoir of longing and love for one’s absent mother, as if when Sophia Shalmiyev left her native Russia in the 1980’s for America a decade later, in her  Azerbaijani father’s care whom she called a ‘benevolent dictator’, she too was forced to divorce her mother. “It was too risky to ask for her and be denied so I didn’t say her name much.” Yet for so long, she had ‘no body’ without her mother. Who grounds us in our bodies more? While Sophia was still in her homeland, her mother was already failing at motherhood, certainly in the Hall of Shame category more than Hall of Fame. Women are forgiven nothing, especially in the 1980’s Soviet Union she spent her childhood, where her alcoholic mother was ‘pickled in the brain’, is judged far more inferior to any man who struggles with alcoholism. Of course her father gets to keep her. A father, who tries to ‘heal’ his little girl when she comes home from boarding school on weekends, who has an inconsolable need for her absent mother, the body hungry for her loving touch and nurturing.  Stuck at that school so that she’ll be safe from the threat of that very mother showing up, she deals with bullying, unkempt as she is standing out like an outcast and many ailments. Her body as undernourished as her hungry heart. Sophia ruminates over the state of motherlessness, and explores feminism through time, reminding us of how the blame always falls to the mother, even if she does everything ‘right’ by societal standards.  That women, even those we admire for their boundless talent are still caving into men, letting their bodies betray their intelligence. How she was unable to fill the space her mother’s absence occupied until she herself was a mother and could give them all that love she never got to feel. Yet her mother’s blood courses through her still, that urge to flee and trickles into her own babies, just like eye-color and height.

For Shalmiyev, she chases her mother through time, a woman who may be dead, how would she even know? A mother who one time demanded to know her young daughter’s  whereabouts but was denied because another man, her ex husband’s brother, decided she be ‘kept in the dark’ because she was in a bad place, wasn’t sober, judged and found wanting. Men, making decisions for women without one thought for their own wants and needs. A mother that has been smudged, remnants of her appearing only in the mirror as Sophia grows up, looking at her reflection.

“I would like to wear an equivalent of a medical alert bracelet: I lost my mother and I cannot find her- née Danilova.

This is poignant, “why can’t it be both ways? Why do mothers have to be forgotten or brave like soldiers?” Her mother is erased, for being a drunken mess, a failed mother and in that erasure a life is shaped, a motherless future for Sophia. The days in Russia are vastly different from her next life, coming of age in America where standing out and being ‘special’ is praised, not like in the Soviet Union where everyone is meant to be the same, where choices are limited. But before that, as a preteen refugee in Italy she loses so much of  her innocence.  Her father fails her too.

In America there is Luda, a stand-in mother of sorts, one of her father’s Ukranian girlfriend’s that comes to join them from Russia. Only 12 years older she is in between being a mother and a sister for Sophia. There is love and rivalry between them, another person who doesn’t want to hear tell of Sophia’s mother, whom in Luda’s eyes is nothing but trash, whorish. Of course as her sole female role model, she wants to be the only mother in Sophia’s heart, jealous even of the longing she feels.

Later there will be work at a peep show in her twenties,  hanging out in the music and art scene in Seattle, as hostility settles over her, gifted at leaving her body when she needs to and being present when she chooses, something she mastered far sooner than anyone should. She is in danger of becoming her mother for a while, until she finds a life in New York and a career.

Jumping time lines do not always work but when they’re done intelligently it flows and isn’t a disruption. I think it’s just right here! The flashbacks in time feed into the future and situations trigger memories of the past. I like that it’s not just a sad memoir about wishing for one’s mother, that Shalmiyev confronts the world women and young girls live in. The flashbacks of her childhood in the Soviet Union are eye-opening, I find myself devouring stories about that world, so foreign to my own childhood. Against her father’s wishes she eventually goes back to Russia to find her mother.

There are tales of abuse in here, and it’s gut-wrenching not just for the act itself but for the simplicity of such a life-altering transgression. Abuses on women and children are so casual in our world, aren’t they? Sometimes when you re-evaluate the past, things that you never questioned with your child’s mind send alarm bells all throughout your adult soul. Certainly what happened to her during her short time in Italy is haunting. This was an engaging memoir. Dislocation isn’t always about the physical body, it can be the soul and in Sophia Shalmiyev’s case it’s both. Her mother is her phantom limb that causes a constant ache. How do you make peace trying to understand mother as an archetype and compare you own, so deeply flawed, a crumbling cold statue on the pedestal of your memory? How is a woman meant to define herself, carve a self out of the discarded parts of her own mother when she was off limits to her? In the end, do we ever have closure, solid answers when chasing a ghost?

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Simon & Schuster