Uprooted at age 7 from her home in the Ukraine as her family immigrates to the U.S. and a new life, Oksana Konnikova grows up permanently seeking her place in the world.
Tragicomic and bittersweet, Kuznetsova’s debut treads the not-unfamiliar ground of immigrant alienation. Oksana’s biography from infanthood to her 30s, delivered in snapshot chapters that can seem like short stories, is the tale of a smart, rebellious outsider for whom family is the only constant. Oksana’s first American home, which she shares with her mother, father, and cougar grandmother, is a crummy apartment in Florida where she begins both the business of assimilation and a habit of impulsive, questionable behavior. From here on, the story is dotted with relationships explored, boundaries tested, and a roller-coaster home life, all infused with Ukrainian and Russian culture that Oksana has scarcely known firsthand. Girlfriends, boyfriends, college, work, relocation from New York to the West Coast follow, and all the while Oksana—the darkly comic outsider with an urge to write—is yearning: “I wrote about how much my grandmother loved returning to the Motherland, how I wished there was a place, or maybe a person, that could make me feel at peace like that.” Eventually such a person does enter her life, although inevitably accompanied by complications, leading to the book’s standout section, "The Yalta Conference," in which Kuznetsova achieves her best synthesis of the novel’s touchstones: European literature and history; Oksana’s emotional quest; her unpredictability and sense of humor; and her love for her inexhaustibly lusty grandmother. At last, the “poor futureless child,” so labeled because a Jersey Shore fortuneteller could see nothing for young Oksana in her crystal ball, finds her identity and her future.
An immigrant’s coming-of-age tale done with brio.