Kartheiser’s (Laptopiada, 2016, etc.) memoir offers a portrait of the Georgian-American immigrant experience in its story of a single mother who comes to the United States.
The book opens in 2004 with the then-34-year-old author frantically getting into a taxi and ordering the driver to tear through the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia. She had just two hours to locate her sons and get their passport photos taken before a 1 p.m. appointment at the United States consulate to secure visas. She was barely eking out a living in her native country and desperate to find a way out. Her book offers a tableau of the day-to-day headaches and upsets that she encountered on her quest for financial security and personal fulfillment. She provides recollections of Communist rule in Georgia, tales of the old country before it, and reflections on the country’s long, complicated history that outsiders rarely hear. The author traveled back and forth between Georgia and the United States, staying and working in America for six-month periods, separated from her family back home. She worked as a babysitter and housekeeper, which made her feel as if she was losing her identity. Still, she stayed positive: “When life gives you challenges, you have no choice—you have to fight.” At times, it seems as if Kartheiser is trying to find the most painless way to conjure the idea of an immigrant’s divided soul; for instance, she refrains from stirring up too many negative emotions—fear, rage, remorse, envy, despair. She also glosses over potentially volatile scenes that a more experienced writer wouldn’t, such as a recollection of the September morning that she turned on the television to see smoke overtaking a skyscraper. This relatively quiet 9/11 scene had great dramatic potential, but the author offers a facile conclusion: “For me, [9/11] is the worst experience of my American journey. The beacon of hope...has been attacked, in an attempt to destroy that hope. But...the people of the United States only become more caring of each other, and more patriotic to their nation.”
A memoir that effectively conjures the world of an immigrant but offers pat answers to complex problems.