In this debut memoir, a Russian immigrant to America cobbles together family stories and her reflections on child-rearing.
When she was 23, Trepelkov and her husband, Alex, flew from Russia to New York to begin an exciting new life. It was the early 1980s, and Alex would soon become immersed in his job at the United Nations. She was offered a position at the U.N. Library. The daughter of a Soviet diplomat, she had been an outstanding student with much promise in the professional world. But when she discovered she was pregnant, she turned down the U.N. job offer and decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Now a grandmother, the author was inspired to share these tender family tales and parenting ideas after reading Amy Chua’s popular book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Chua claims to have raised her American daughters the way a Chinese mother would. Though Trepelkov doesn’t profess to have raised her daughters the “Russian way,” she can relate to being a mom with a different cultural background in America. Her mothering style is more laid-back than Chua’s. For example, she exposed her girls to arts and sports without demanding they be the best. The most compelling parts of her account vividly describe her struggles to fit in. In the Soviet Union, her family was part of the elite—and socializing with foreigners was discouraged—so in America, organizing a daughter’s birthday party proved difficult. Trepelkov’s prose is smooth, but sometimes the narrative flow is slowed down by mundane memories, like the time an administrator called her father to discuss her placement in seventh-grade language classes. Jumping from thought to thought, the style is diarylike—one anecdote about ice skating is interrupted by a vignette about her daughter’s wish to become a ballerina. But the author also includes many of her Russian family stories, which are memorably sweet. For example, like O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi,” her grandfather sold his prized silver cigarette case to buy his wife a pair of shoes.
Sometimes rambling but always loving, a sentimental look at a mother's life.