An imperfect but ambitious family saga that invites us to consider the personal and emotional stakes of political choices.


The stories of five generations of Soviet Jewish women come to light as a Brighton Beach family prepares to celebrate an anniversary.

In 1930s Odessa, Daria Gordon seems to have it all. Her new husband, a refined pianist who, to her mother’s delight, hails from a social class slightly above her own, is smitten with her. But their fortunes quickly turn when they and their two daughters are deported as enemies of the state, allegedly having been overheard speaking German. As laborers in Siberia, they encounter extreme hardship, and Daria turns to an unexpected source for help, embarking on a relationship that will indelibly change the course of her family’s life. At this point the narrative jumps to the 1970s and shifts to the perspective of Daria’s granddaughter Natasha, a gifted math student in Odessa whose ambitions are thwarted by state anti-Semitism. Her desire to broaden the horizons of her world, mixed with her infatuation with a charismatic young refusenik, sets her on a path that propels the narrative forward again to the present-day Russian-speaking Brooklyn enclave of Brighton Beach, once more skipping two generations to the perspective of Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe, who is dealing with her own romantic entanglements. The novel’s title, though perhaps unoriginal, is appropriate: With each section, Adams reveals another layer of the matryoshka doll that is Zoe’s history and identity. As the family prepares to celebrate Natasha and her husband’s 45th wedding anniversary, about which Natasha is strangely unenthusiastic, Zoe comes to understand how her foremothers’ choices have brought her family to the present moment. Adams’ prose leaves much to be desired; she often relies too heavily on melodramatic clichés instead of letting the already soap-opera–esque dynamism of her story speak for itself. But ultimately, the novel adds a degree of nuance to a historical narrative that is often flattened: It depicts some of the subtleties and complexities of being a Jew in the Soviet Union, offering a partial corrective to the frequent oversimplification of a chapter of history that is anything but simple. Moreover, it is a compelling example of how deeply personal stories can lie beneath the surface of sweeping histories.

An imperfect but ambitious family saga that invites us to consider the personal and emotional stakes of political choices.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291094-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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The anguish and horror of genocide arrive with fresh impact in an absorbing personal account.


A Jewish family’s experience across multiple generations, researched by a mother and daughter, shines a spotlight on French antisemitism, both historic and contemporary.

The arrival in 2003 of an unsigned postcard, delivered to her mother Lélia’s postbox in Paris, bearing the names of four family ancestors murdered at Auschwitz, forces Anne Berest properly to consider her Jewish heritage. The result is this autofiction sharing the tragic saga of one branch of her forbears, the Rabinovitches, seeking peace and a safe home in the shifting European landscape of the 20th century. Lélia, who has methodically pieced together the story of her grandparents, now shares it with Anne, starting with Ephraïm and Emma’s marriage in Moscow and the birth of their first child, Myriam, Lélia’s mother, who will be the sole survivor. Two more children, Noémie and Jacques, are born, while the Rabinovitches move, for political reasons, to Latvia, then France. But Ephraïm fails to secure French citizenship for the family, and, as their lives become increasingly circumscribed after the German occupation, first Noémie and Jacques and then the parents are arrested, imprisoned, and slaughtered. Berest’s descriptions of captivity are notably horrific. Years later, as Anne’s child reports antisemitism at school, Anne remembers the postcard and begins a quest to find its author. Now the narrative switches from historical record to detection, involving a private eye and a graphologist, before turning more introspective as it traces Myriam’s experience. Having escaped into the French free zone with her husband, she settles in a remote Provencal cottage, then comes back to Paris and joins the Resistance. As the war ends, she witnesses the return of skeletal survivors from Germany. The story overall is poignant, tense, restless, and ultimately pivotal, as Anne not only solves her mystery, but, more importantly, gains her identity.

The anguish and horror of genocide arrive with fresh impact in an absorbing personal account.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9781609458386

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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