By Emily Rubin
Mariner Books, 2011
Stalina moves from Russia to Hartford, Connecticut in 1991, when she is in her early 50s, leaving her aging mother behind. She lives with a Russian friend, Amalia, and although she worked as a scientist at home, finds her niche working as a housekeeper at the Liberty Motel, a short-stay motel, where she becomes inspired to decorate rooms by themes—the Roller Coaster Fun Park Room or the Caribbean Sunset Room. After living in the U.S. for two years she encounters an old Russian friend, Nadia, who she has not seen since childhood, who leads her to discover a secret about her parents, and in particular her father, who died in a labor camp when she was growing up.
This is a quirky novel, which captures a unique immigrant story—a single woman moving to this country on her own, with no family to make a new home with. The book also recounts moments from her life growing up Jewish in Leningrad with parents who named her Stalina as a joke. (At a time when Stalin was sending Jews to Siberia her parents gave her her name with the hope, “he would never harm his namesake.”) Rubin is a funny and poetic writer who creates an idiosyncratic character in Stalina. This book is character driven and is highly imaginative and engaging. Stalina is a warm and sympathetic character to spend time with. And the book comes to a touching end.
I was given a copy of this book by the author.