Forget Russia

Written by L. Bordetsky-Williams
Review by Trish MacEnulty

Forget Russia is a luminous look at Russia in the 20th century through the lens of one Jewish woman and her granddaughter. The lyrical language, the complex characters, and the detailed settings create an enthralling story. When Anna, the granddaughter, embarks on a college trip to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, she can’t understand why her mother and her grandmother don’t want her to go. Anna, it seems, is cursed (or blessed) with a Russian soul that compels her to visit the country that has had such an influence on her family. While Anna finds America “soulless” compared to the Russia she encounters, she also realizes that life there is “impossible.”

Anna’s quest is intriguing, but the early accounts of the grandmother’s travails from 1915 to 1931 are what make this book a truly gripping read. Sarah is just a girl when her father leaves her mother to go to America with promises that he will send for them. After a while, the letters stop coming until, finally, he sends divorce papers. The betrayed mother and Sarah struggle to survive with the help of Sarah’s kindly uncle. But life is hard in the small Jewish village, and during a pogrom, Sarah’s beloved mother is abducted and thrown into a river. This event haunts Sarah, her daughters, and her granddaughter, Anna, who shortly after her arrival in Russia is sexually assaulted by one of her peers.

When Sarah and her husband and two children return to Russia in 1931, we are witnesses to the shattered dreams of the Russian revolutionaries in the face of Stalin’s reign of terror. What a heartbreaking glimpse into a world of idealism betrayed. This is a beautiful and fascinating story you will not want to put down.