The Nesting Dolls

Written by Alina Adams
Review by Carrie Callaghan

In 2019, a cantankerous, self-aggrandizing, but still loveable Russian immigrant grandmother takes a gift at her 45th wedding anniversary party and raises her arms to dash the framed wedding certificate to the ground. Her granddaughter, Zoe, is mystified. Then, the novel jumps back some ninety years to the efficient, utterly unromantic wedding-by-signature of a young Jewish woman in Ukraine and her piano virtuoso husband.

The Nesting Dolls masterfully unspools the story of five generations of Russian Jewish women by following three of them from Odessa to Siberia to the United States. Daria, the matriarch of the clan, faces impossible choices when her piano performing husband and the rest of their small family are marched off to Siberia, accused of being “Germanic.” The horrors of the frozen labor camps take a terrible toll, and Daria learns the complexity and pain of love as she tries to keep her delicate husband and two small girls alive. Then, in the 1970s, the daughter of one of those girls resents the Soviet Union’s anti-Semitism, but the only recourse she can imagine is flights of fancy about a handsome young agitator. Finally, Zoe is Daria’s great, great-granddaughter, living in Brighton Beach and struggling to bridge the chasm in her identity, split between Russian/Ukrainian Jew and American.

Alina Adams deftly weaves the stories of these women, their heartaches, their blind spots, and their growth. As with many coming-of-age stories, it can be frustrating to watch the characters make clear errors, and the verisimilitude in the characters’ prejudices can be painful to read, but the wisdom they gain and the love they have for each other make the reader’s investment well worthwhile. This is a charming, heartfelt novel.