Russian Tattoo: A Memoir By Elena Gorokhova

    It was a 10 stars out of 5 kind of book. An immigrant myself, I connected with Elena's story in America so much! She depicts the feeling of being torn between two such different cultures, not knowing where you belong anymore, so well.
    This book can't boast a fast-paced plot, there's no mystery, no detective story, but it was a real page turner for me. I wanted to know what will happen to the characters next, but I was really dreading the ending, it was a very emotional read for me. 336 Thank you to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for giving me access to a free copy of Russian Tattoo. I have a real fascination with Eastern Europe -- especially the 20th century and early 21st -- so I am surprised that I missed Gorokhova's first memoir about her childhood and early years in the Soviet Union. Based on this book, I will definitely be looking for it. In Russian Tattoo, Gorokhova's speaks so frankly about her early years in New Jersey and Texas after immigrating from the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Through sometimes humorous and always straightforward prose, she really creates a very vivid picture of her sense of dislocation and utter bemusement at life in the US. The most simple things -- how to eat a hamburger for example -- are a source of confusion. As the book moves into Gorokhova's more recent years, with the exception of her relationship with her mother, her story feels a bit more guarded. This is understandable, given that this is a memoir and she no doubt feels a need to protect the privacy of her close relatives -- her husband, daughter and sister. But the side effect of Gorokhova's respect for her family, is that the book becomes a little less engaging in the second half because it feels that there is quite a bit that is left unsaid. But this is a minor flaw. In the end, I really liked this book and Gorokhova. She is smart, funny, self-deprecating and full of recognizable emotions about her mother and her daughter and the mixed emotions of adopting a new country as home. Lovely book and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the Soviet Union and the immigrant experience. And now I have to find her first book... 336 This book was won in a contest drawing at Good Reads. I was not told to review unless I felt to do so. Everything in this review is my own opinion.

    I'm with the terrific book fans. I loved the book and Ms Gorokhova's writing. I laughed and cried and laughed again throughout the entire book. For me, there was a lot of feelings written in this memoir. I haven't enjoyed a non-fiction so good in awhile. Yes it is a life story, but reads much like a book of fiction.

    The main theme of the book is the relationships Elena had with her mother and her own daughter. Each comes from different places culturally and how they interact is what makes the book. Of course Elena's journey from Russia to the US and all she had to learn in her new home is described in the book. But the feelings for mothers and daughters comes through. As is true in most households with three strong women under the same roof, there is the ambition to take control. Handling this situation brings conflict, of course, but there is plenty of love stirring in the background. As in today's families, much remains the same as what Elena experienced. Having children still in school or college along with elderly and aging parents for whom they must care. Balancing it all becomes a job in itself. This was a part of Elena's journey. Anyone who has experienced that sort of situation or knows from close family or others who have, will appreciate the times Elena had. This was a life experience that she hadn't expected, but adapted to and shaped the woman she is today. 336 I received a free ARC from Simon & Schuster through the First-reads program.
    Once I’d started reading Russian Tattoo, I could not stop. This is a wonderful book. As a more recent immigrant from Asia, I found something in common and this book truly touched my heart. I enjoyed Elena Gorokhova’s writing. I will certainly read her first memoir – A Mountain of Crumbs as well.
    336 This is a sometimes gripping, sometimes frustrating memoir of a young Soviet woman who comes to this country in the early 1980s. I was riveted by the first half of this book as she deftly captured the bewilderment so many feel at coming to this land of plenty. She expertly demonstrates what a different world we occupy in America and how truly demoralizing life in the Soviet Union was. There is one very amusing scene where a socialist professor in America praises the great Soviet experiment to her and her thoughts on just how misguided this fool was is worth reading. Gorokhova also does not hesitate to point out that the new Russia is not much different than the old. She is a frank narrator and I applaud that. Having been to her hometown of St. Petersburg twice (over a span of twenty years) I loved the descriptions and her obvious love for her city.

    Where the memoir breaks down is that she goes on too long. I was deeply engrossed in her descriptions of her early days in this country and her trials and tribulations in bringing her aged mother over. Unfortunately, the narrative lasts too long, a constant complaint of mine. I was not interested in her long-winded tales of her rebellious and spoiled daughter nor the tragic death of her brother-in-law. These are all stories in themselves but they diluted the narrative and the whole thing then lost steam and purpose.

    This would have been 5 stars if she cut the last 100+ pages out and left some details to the imagination. Worth picking up but feel free to skim the last quarter of the book. 336

    An exquisite portrait of mothers and daughters that reaches from Cold War Russia to modern-day New Jersey, from the author of A Mountain of Crumbs—the memoir that “leaves you wanting more” (The Daily Telegraph, UK).

    In A Mountain of Crumbs Elena Gorokhova describes coming of age behind the Iron Curtain and leaving her mother and her Motherland for a new life in the United States. Now, in Russian Tattoo, Elena learns that the journey of an immigrant is filled with everyday mistakes, small humiliations, and a loss of dignity. Cultural disorientation comes in the form of not knowing how to eat a hamburger, buy a pair of shoes, or catch a bus. But through perseverance and resilience, Elena gradually adapts to her new country. With the simultaneous birth of her daughter and the arrival of her Soviet mother, who comes to the US to help care for her granddaughter and stays for twenty-four years, it becomes the story of a unique balancing act and a family struggle.

    Russian Tattoo is a poignant memoir of three generations of strong women with very different cultural values, all living under the same roof and battling for control. Themes of separation and loss, grief and struggle, and power and powerlessness run throughout this story of growing understanding and, finally, redemption. “Gorokhova writes about her life with a novelist’s gift,” says The New York Times, and her latest offering is filled with empathy, insight, and humor. Russian Tattoo: A Memoir

    I am still unsure whether to rate this book 4 or 5 stars. I certainly enjoyed reading this memoir and have tremendous respect for Gorokhova.

    Approximately 15 years ago, my first ESL students arrived on American shores from Russia. It had taken them seven years to receive permits to immigrate. They left behind friends and family, also valued possessions, because they were allowed to transport only small, set amounts of their belongings. Both are intelligent and well educated, she a physician, he an engineer. Although they had studied some English, it was far from adequate. Today they are American citizens, have made interesting adjustments in their professions, own a home and a business and are my very dear, close friends.

    I am recounting this because I have seen first hand the struggles Elena Gorokhova endured when she immigrated to this country. Although my role was to meet with my pupils, “Leonid” and “Tanya” once weekly to help them learn this language, it quickly became evident to me that not only were they struggling with “culture shock”, they needed help in managing the system. It was a bitter cold winter and they had meager funds. How were they to know that there was assistance available for obtaining oil to heat their little apartment? There were many small things that they were not well equipped to know. I do not relate these things for special recognition. I could see as Gorokhova told of her own difficulties, how little help she had at times- and I understood and marveled a how well she managed. She and my friends have enriched my life and educated me about Russian history, the culture and the language (a little!).

    I was extremely impressed by her first book,A Mountain of Crumbs, and was eager to learn about her adjustment to life in the U.S. after her hasty marriage to an American . My wish was answered! In addition to relating the many issues of her personal life and adjustment, she further alluded to the Soviet educational system in comparison to the US. She again addressed descriptions of vranyo , a pretending, or lying game, where the teacher would present “facts” about their system, the students knew these were untruths and everyone knew the real situation. This feature added some humor and related to many issues in her narrative.

    Russian history was a thread running through this memoir. Gorokhova talks about how after WWII, she would hear every Russian over 50 stating how they could withstand anything if there were no more war. My friend, “Tanya” has told me how many well educated, often professional people, would work for many days on end without pay- in the present era! Elena and her sister claimed that people there had blamed every problem on the war and did not live like other countries.
    “When did the war end?... Almost forty years ago. I don't see life better now than it was after the war, or when Kruschev ran this country,or in the 1960's …
    “We live in a country full of hypocrites and bandits... and the 'true believers', those who survived Stalin only because he was too busy murdering the other 20 million” (p.168)

    Gorokhova has written her story with stark honesty, with pain and with tenderness. As I read I had the sense that I was renewing an old friendship and catching up on her progress and her life. There is much more that I could state here, but I'll leave that to others for their own enjoyment. (Be sure to read her A Mountain of Crumbs first!) 336 I read A Mountain of Crumbs, by Elena Gorokhova when it first came out in 2010. I still own the book. I LOVED READING IT. I LOVE THIS BOOK, too!!!!!!

    It was a wonderful reading Elena again. I didn't realize this was a follow up sequel-memoir to A Mountain of Crumbs. All these years... I had thought The Russian Tattoo was a novel. I knew I wanted to read it years ago when I first heard about it....but it slipped away in the way books do sometimes.

    The other day -- I found this BRAND NEW HARD COPY ... with this gorgeous book cover in my thrift store for $1.

    With the first paragraph of chapter one, I knew I was back in good hands with Elena telling a story.....Her Story! I was smiling ear to ear - inside and out as I began reading....

    I wish I could clear my mind and focus on my imminent American future. I am twelve kilometers up in the air – – 40,000 feet, according to their new non-metric system I have yet to learn. Every time I glance at the overhead television screen that shows the position of my Aeroflot flight, this future is getting closer. The miniature airplane is like a needle over the Atlantic, stitching the two hemispheres together with the thread of our route. I wish I could get ready and dredge my mind of all the silt I have my previous life. But I can't. I can't help but think of my mothers crumbled face back in Leningrad airport, or her gaze, open like a fresh wound, of her smells of the apple jam from our dacha mixed with the sharp odor of formaldehyde she'd brought home from the medical School where she teaches anatomy. I can't help but think of my sister Marina's tight embrace and her hair the color of apricots, one fruit that had failed to grow in our dacha garden my grandfather planted. Ten hours earlier, I said goodbye to both of them.

    In Elena's first book, Elena wrote about her childhood in Russia. She was living in the United States - an adult immigrant--'looking back' at her past... giving us ( the readers) a great day-to-day experience of what it was like growing up in Russia. It was funny and sad -- and sooooo good!!

    In this second book - Elena is looking back AGAIN. This time she is looking back at her
    years of living in the United States -- starting from the first day she arrived at age 24 -- meeting her American husband Robert whom she barely knew. She married him for a green card. ( Ha, THAT ARRANGEMENT is no longer easy to do). ---

    Many parts of this book are FUNNY. I'm not a fan of American Fast Food Joints -- where we eat our food out of paper containers -nor am I a fan of the food -- but boy it's sure a kick of laughs when Elena eats at one for the first time. Other parts are sad - and touching- and just so 'human' and inspiring.

    So we take a journey with Elena .... as she finds her way around America. She begins with a marriage of convenience with Robert. ---LOTS OF ENJOYABLE STORYTELLING from buying a pair of tennis shoes - to taking the bus - crappy jobs - etc. From Austin to New Jersey - a divorce with Robert...
    A new marriage with Andy....'for love this time'....
    The birth of Sasha....
    Elena's mother coming from Leningrad when Sasha is born.... and never returns.
    A journey with Sasha .....from baby - pre teen - young adult - college -etc....

    Having just finished reading the fabulous graphic memoir The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui, I recognized the - once again-- that SPECIAL COMPLEXITY & LOVE between 3 women of 3 generations within the family: MOM- Daughter- GRANDMOTHER-- and how each experience being a mixture of TWO COUNTRIES... each has a different perspective.

    Sasha was born in America. Elena taught her the Russian language--wanting her to be Bilingual. After all - Elena 'was' a language teacher.
    But as Sasha was coming into her late teens we recognized teenage rebellion-- she wants nothing to do with her mother's RUSSIAN ANYTHING.

    AS LONG AS THIS IS NOT YOUR CHILD.... you might laugh:
    Sasha -- now 17 year old --was arrested in Niman Marcus for stealing a pair of jeans that were $200.
    The dialogue is funny for the next few pages ( as I say --as long as it's not your daughter)....
    Dad, (Andy), says......This is it, DON'T say a word, not a single word. You are going with us next week. Do you understand, young lady? You're going to Paris!

    Elena says......I know how ridiculous this must sound to a stranger. Our daughters punishment for shoplifting, a trip to Paris.

    Towards the end of this story -- I felt a little teary.

    This book was a great 'companion- completion' to Elena's Russian and American self.
    The Russian in her is for her mother and sister. The American in her is for her husband and daughter.


    Soooooooo ENJOYABLE! Highly recommended!

    336 Amazing memoir. So much color in such austerity. I will write more later 336 “Russian Tattoo” by Elena Gorokhova, published by Simon and Schuster.

    Category – Memoir Publication Date – January 06, 2015

    If it’s a memoir you are looking for be sure to put this on your must read list.

    Elena is living with her mother in St. Petersburg, Russia. Their conditions are typical of the 1980’s Russian economy. They are living in sub-par housing and spending a large amount of their time waiting in line for food and clothing. She meets Robert, an American exchange student who offers her a way out of Russia. She agrees to marry him but he tells her that it is in name only and that he still wants his freedom. Elena lives with him in Texas and is astounded by the material wealth of the United States. She also has problems assimilating into her new life as Robert offers no assistance; in fact, he becomes disgusted with her and sends her to live with his mother in New Jersey. It is here that she meets her true love and divorces Robert, who realizes his mistake but too late. Elena goes on to live a good life with her new husband. She finds a job teaching English as a Second Language and becomes a part of her new world. They buy a house and have a daughter. Things are going so well that she is able to bring her mother over from Russia. This does cause some problems in that they were never close and it seems that mother was always getting in the way and free with old country advice. Some of Elena’s past comes back to haunt her in her daughter. Sasha has a mind and will of her own and balks at the things Elena thinks she should be doing. For instance, she drops out of college, joins a group protesting the inhumane treatment of animals, and purchases a firearm.

    A wonderful story that spans over the lifetime of three generations of women that are independent with a definite different item of cultural values, and a determination to have their way.
    336 ​Elena Gorokhova's memoir, Russian Tattoo, is the​ ​​reenactment of her escape from Russia and her overbearing mother in the hopes of creating a life on her own. She intricately describes the complications an immigrant experiences when thrust into a completely different society than they are normally accustomed to. Instead of a recollection of events as memoirs are typically written, it was written in present tense and felt more like​ ​you're​​ ​reading an actual novel which made it an incredibly quick ​and captivating​ read. Russian Tattoo had the potential to be an emotional and touching tale but its downfall was the method of writing which caused her personal portrayal of her life to be conveyed in a remote and detached manner.

    I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. 336


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