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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 S 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.


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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 S 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.

30 review for Russian Tattoo: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    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 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. I HOPE ELENA WRITES ANOTHER BOOK.....'ANYTHING'. I'll read it!!!! Soooooooo ENJOYABLE! Highly recommended!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    ​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 incredibl ​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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barbara H

    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 a 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!)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova is a lovely memoir of not only Elena, but of her mother and her daughter. Elena’s journey from Soviet Russia was not an easy one and the learning curve was steep. By the time she has her daughter Sasha, she feels confident and secure enough for her mother to visit, not knowing the visit will last 24 years. While Russian Tattoo is a story of what it is like to immigrate and acclimate to a culture vastly different than what Elena is accustomed to, it is far more, Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova is a lovely memoir of not only Elena, but of her mother and her daughter. Elena’s journey from Soviet Russia was not an easy one and the learning curve was steep. By the time she has her daughter Sasha, she feels confident and secure enough for her mother to visit, not knowing the visit will last 24 years. While Russian Tattoo is a story of what it is like to immigrate and acclimate to a culture vastly different than what Elena is accustomed to, it is far more, this is a story of three generations of women, each strong willed and who view life from very different mindsets. I found the interactions between these three women to be intriguing and rather powerful. Russian Tattoo would make a lovely addition to anyone’s library, especially those who enjoy memoirs.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Pessolano

    “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 “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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    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 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...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ev

    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 re 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cin

    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. 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Micebyliz

    i loved it. My only really substantial complaint after reading this book was that i kept getting hungry while i was reading :) Books about food are some of my favorites--for example, Like Water For Chocolate. I felt very connected to this book for many reasons, and i was very touched by the life of the mother.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Received this book as an advanced reading copy. All in all I quite enjoyed this book. The author really puts you in her own shoes as she goes through her immigration to the West. I found it a good and interesting read. Recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Mcelroy

    A wonderful follow up to "A Mountain of Crumbs". With an online teaser from F. Murray Abraham and Alan Alda I can't wait to see who picks up the screen rights; even so I think Elena Gorokhova should write the screenplay.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This review can be found at www.ifithaswords.blogspot.com or Amazon.com as part of the Vine program. This review can be found at www.ifithaswords.blogspot.com or Amazon.com as part of the Vine program.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    A good book to read. I liked it a lot. It was very well written.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    Very boring

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I enjoyed Mountain of Crumbs which preceded this memoir, but found this even more engrossing. I speak another language and know what it is like to live in another country while trying to communicate in another tongue. That, however, pales compared to coming to America from what was Soviet Russia! Ms. Gorokhova made me understand the tremendous paralysis one feels when provided with choices! The dizzying variety of products with all their permutations and complications - the fact that Americans a I enjoyed Mountain of Crumbs which preceded this memoir, but found this even more engrossing. I speak another language and know what it is like to live in another country while trying to communicate in another tongue. That, however, pales compared to coming to America from what was Soviet Russia! Ms. Gorokhova made me understand the tremendous paralysis one feels when provided with choices! The dizzying variety of products with all their permutations and complications - the fact that Americans are so polite and do not show stronger emotions easily - coupled with a husband who never saw fit to take her in hand and teach her these things! As she flounders about in her first months, you suffer alongside her, knowing that she will find her way but sorry that she didn't feel able to totally confide in anyone. Her triumph is marvelous and her honesty about her relationship with her mother is touching. I understood why she was so overbearing with her daughter (patterning) but it hurt me to read about it. This is a book worth your while.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Fran Darling

    Amazing journey into the Russian mind. The culture, character and customs are woven into everything Elena does, but yet she continues to try and separate from her roots. Fascinating, honest and something we (as former immigrants) can all relate to.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nidhi Mundhra

    Every word in the book (and the first part “A Mountain of Crumbs”) is like taking a decadent bite into Russian life and culture. I could feel every experience that Gorokhova writes about: the guilt, the irritation, the sadness, the frustration. I didn’t want to put down the book because it made me feel like every minute that I wasn’t reading it, I was missing out on her experiences. She has such a beautifully expressive, lucid, feminine voice. And I love her honesty! Loved this one as much as the Every word in the book (and the first part “A Mountain of Crumbs”) is like taking a decadent bite into Russian life and culture. I could feel every experience that Gorokhova writes about: the guilt, the irritation, the sadness, the frustration. I didn’t want to put down the book because it made me feel like every minute that I wasn’t reading it, I was missing out on her experiences. She has such a beautifully expressive, lucid, feminine voice. And I love her honesty! Loved this one as much as the first one. You can read this one without having read the first, but you will want to read the first one after this one- so might as well do it chronologically.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tonya

    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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pearl

    In Chekhov's "Three Sisters" the sisters dream of escaping their dreary life in the provinces and returning to Moscow; but at the end of the play they are still trapped in their dreary little town with all of their dreams fading. They may even be finished with wringing their hands at their fate. Irina, a school teacher. says, "I'll teach...I'll work, work ... ." Such is the life that Elena Gorokhova imagines for herself if she cannot escape Russia. But she does escape. Kind of. Gorokhova is also In Chekhov's "Three Sisters" the sisters dream of escaping their dreary life in the provinces and returning to Moscow; but at the end of the play they are still trapped in their dreary little town with all of their dreams fading. They may even be finished with wringing their hands at their fate. Irina, a school teacher. says, "I'll teach...I'll work, work ... ." Such is the life that Elena Gorokhova imagines for herself if she cannot escape Russia. But she does escape. Kind of. Gorokhova is also a teacher. She lives in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg once again) and, among other things, teaches a six-week Russian immersion program for American students at Leningrad University. It's the early 1980s. At the university she meets Robert, a student who offers to marry her so that she can get a green card and come to live in America. Robert is working on his Ph D. in Physics at the University of Texas. He is entirely at home there (although he grew up in New Jersey) and is no longer dependent upon Elena in the way he was in Leningrad and no longer finds her foreign ways charming. In fact he can't understand why she can't do simple things such as shop for groceries or for shoes. She is overwhelmed at the choices American shoppers have. In Russia, there were two choices at the most. Shopping was easy. Quality was poor. The choice was kind of pointless anyway. Robert offered her an "open marriage" when he proposed. She had never heard of such an arrangement and it stabbed at her heart, but she was desperate to escape to America. "Russian Tattoo" is an immigrant's story. A story that's both very funny and very revealing of an immigrant's bewilderment of all things American. But it's also very much a story about mother-daughter relationships. Elena's desperation to escape Russia is part and parcel of her desperation to escape her mother, who is almost entirely a stand-in for the motherland. Her mother is fierce, dominating, overbearing, controlling, and protective and nurturing. And she is certain that Elena will come to some bad end in America. She tries to direct Elena's life from afar but when Elena has a daughter of her own, she comes to help Elena take care of her first grandchild. She never leaves. She never learns English. She wants her granddaughter to know all things Russian. She can't stand the waste she witnesses in her daughter and son-in-law's household. In short, she still tries to control her daughter's life. But as Elena's daughter grows up, Elena sees the same fierce stubbornness in her daughter as in herself and in her mother. Elena returns to Russia almost every year for a visit. Her best friends still live there. Russia remains in her soul. Russia is tattooed on her heart as permanently as the tattoo that her teen-aged American daughter gets on her arm. There really was no total escape. Sliced hearts do not become whole, she discovers. Some readers found Gorokhova's memoir depressing; they fault her for not being happier. But what do they expect? She is Russian! Haven't they ever read Chekhov? Other than Soviet propaganda, name me a Russian story that is defined by unmitigated happiness. Or, forget the unmitigated. I learned a word I had always been searching for in trying to define Chekhov's stories. Elena talks about "toska." Toska, she says is "a combination of melancholy and longing. A deep sadness and an awareness that something has been lost...things deeply submerged under the layers of silt on the soft bottom of the Russian soul." Yes! that is Chekhov. And that is Elena Gorokhova's memoir. But it's also funny and tender and witty. She is a wonderful writer. I loved this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I can't remember where I heard about this book but am so glad I picked it up because it was wonderful! This is a memoir, beginning with the author's immigration from the U.S.S.R. to the U.S. after marrying an American she'd known for a short time. Having never experienced life outside a communist country, she had no idea what to expect or how to act and was completely bewildered in some respects, despite speaking English. This book chronicles moments in her life after her immigration, focusing o I can't remember where I heard about this book but am so glad I picked it up because it was wonderful! This is a memoir, beginning with the author's immigration from the U.S.S.R. to the U.S. after marrying an American she'd known for a short time. Having never experienced life outside a communist country, she had no idea what to expect or how to act and was completely bewildered in some respects, despite speaking English. This book chronicles moments in her life after her immigration, focusing on complicated family relationships and the way Russian (and the U.S.S.R) made a lasting impact on her life. This book was beautifully written in first person present tense. The writing kept me hooked on the story, as if I was watching it all unfold in front of me. The difficulties she encountered were understandable, and it was fascinating to read about her struggles and frustrations in the new country while also recognizing that she didn't really want to go back to Leningrad and instead was simply remembering its charm from a distance. I enjoyed the author's commentary about the life she'd left behind and the way the people she'd left behind were struggling to get by, and I also thought she did a magnificent job describing how complicated family relationships are, with her immigration fueled in part by a desire to put space between herself and her family... and then members of her family ultimately followed and also struggled to adapt to American life. I think she captured perfectly how hard it is to immerse yourself in a new culture, despite the best of intentions, because so much is so foreign. Her family relationships changed over the years, and I loved the depictions of how her relationship with her own mother somewhat mirrored, years later, her relationship with her own daughter. It was interesting because it wasn't just the usual mother/daughter issues but problems that also stemmed from the cultural differences between each generation. Really fascinating and extremely well written! I had a really hard time putting this book down and thought it was just excellent overall. Perhaps not for everyone, since there's not necessarily a "big accomplishment" or something that the author ever describes - this is simply a memoir about complicated family relationships and cultural shifts. But the descriptions of the two countries are great, and the family relationships depicted in here were incredibly well done. A great read overall!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I had read Elena Gorokhova's first book, A Mountain of Crumbs, a few years ago and I really enjoyed her down-to-earth account of life in Communist Russia which ended with her escape to the USA to join her 'Green Card Husband'. Her second book – Russian Tattoo – picks up where the first left off and is every bit as good as the first volume. There's something wonderfully compelling about the way she writes. Almost everything is presented in the present tense and this creates a sense of urgency that I had read Elena Gorokhova's first book, A Mountain of Crumbs, a few years ago and I really enjoyed her down-to-earth account of life in Communist Russia which ended with her escape to the USA to join her 'Green Card Husband'. Her second book – Russian Tattoo – picks up where the first left off and is every bit as good as the first volume. There's something wonderfully compelling about the way she writes. Almost everything is presented in the present tense and this creates a sense of urgency that's normally missing from autobiographies. I don't know if it's a 'Russian thing' (Do they speak that way when talking about the past? Are they perhaps like me when I speak French and everything has to be present tense because my grammar is so terrible?) or is it just a clever stylistic device? I don't know and I don't care – but I do love it. I am a born and bred Anglo-Irish woman who has travelled a lot but never lived outside her country and I have an inexplicable fascination with the immigrant experience. There are many more books about what it's like to be an Indian or Pakistani immigrant, but relatively few about what it's like to be make the giant leap from Soviet Russia with its controls and restrictions to the ultimate land of the free with its monster supermarkets and endless choices of food, clothes and experiences. The book gets an extra dose of 'compare and contrast' when Elena's elderly mother comes to visit and never goes home and when her elder sister comes up trumps in the 'Green Card Lottery' and moves to the States. Almost as compelling as the geographic dislocation is the sense of contrast between the generations with Elena's mother retaining her old Soviet 'waste not want not' ways and her pans of cabbage stew and Elena's daughter rebelling and getting the tattoos of the title and despite the conflicts and contrasts, this is a book that's surprisingly powerful on family love and respect against the odds.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lianne

    I received an ARC of this novel courtesy of the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This review in its entirety was originally posted at eclectictales.com: http://www.eclectictales.com/blog/201... I read her first memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Russian Tattoo is an interesting continuation to that book, picking up where the first volume left off with her travelling to the United States to start her new life. This book covers her experiences in America I received an ARC of this novel courtesy of the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This review in its entirety was originally posted at eclectictales.com: http://www.eclectictales.com/blog/201... I read her first memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Russian Tattoo is an interesting continuation to that book, picking up where the first volume left off with her travelling to the United States to start her new life. This book covers her experiences in America and is very much the immigrant’s experience; it’s not just the culture shock and the lifestyle differences she’s faced with but an entire ideology and character that she’s never faced before. As a result, she finds herself contrasting the things she encounters in America with the things she knows growing up in Soviet Russia. She also finds herself frequently remembering the things her mother likes to quote and say depending on the situation, which she finds strange given everything she’s done was to separate herself from her mother. Thus in many ways this book is a fascinating meditation about relationships between mothers and daughters, as she finds herself bridged between her mother and her equally-strong-willed daughter. There’s quite a number of time jumps as Elena focuses on key moments in her life in America, but the contrasts are interesting as she progresses through the 80s, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and into the 90s. I really enjoyed reading her second memoir and highly recommend it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    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 he 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.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jolene

    A great Mother's Day read. Left me with the impression that time with svoi--ours--is short and should be treasured. She is really honest about so much in the retelling--including things she couldn't bear to tell her mom when she was alive. Sasha's story is speedily told (from birth to childhood to the teen and post-grad years), but it is true that the core vignettes that stay with you are related to Lenochka's relationship with her mom (and sister Marina) and daughter Sasha (and husband). (spoilers A great Mother's Day read. Left me with the impression that time with svoi--ours--is short and should be treasured. She is really honest about so much in the retelling--including things she couldn't bear to tell her mom when she was alive. Sasha's story is speedily told (from birth to childhood to the teen and post-grad years), but it is true that the core vignettes that stay with you are related to Lenochka's relationship with her mom (and sister Marina) and daughter Sasha (and husband). (spoilers ahead) A lot of the beginning is spent recounting her memories of Leningrad and her journey to America as the wife of Robert. The marriage was short-lived, but soon Elena found herself in a relationship that stands the test of time. It was sad to read about Frankie's passing. There are a few medical crises--with febrile seizures, glioblastoma, hypertension/congestive heart failure. It seems that being the daughter of a surgeon has left its impression on Elena G. It is heartening to see how the family moves forward even while dealing with sickness, loss (associated with war/poverty), and grief. I want to read Mountain of Crumbs too. I have already passed this book on to someone who might appreciate it as a summer read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Pugh

    Elena Gorokhova’s memoir, Russian Tattoo, provides a glimpse of what it’s like coming from the USSR which was known for bread lines, rusty plumbing, commitment to the collective and hospitals with a lack of clean sheets and modern technology, to the United States where local hospitals shine like 5-star hotels, catsup is left unsupervised on restaurant tables and where service is generally delivered with a smile. At the time, new to the United States, Elena presents many questions and observations Elena Gorokhova’s memoir, Russian Tattoo, provides a glimpse of what it’s like coming from the USSR which was known for bread lines, rusty plumbing, commitment to the collective and hospitals with a lack of clean sheets and modern technology, to the United States where local hospitals shine like 5-star hotels, catsup is left unsupervised on restaurant tables and where service is generally delivered with a smile. At the time, new to the United States, Elena presents many questions and observations regarding Western Culture. What are multiple choice questions? How does one simply throw away half-eaten hamburgers? What is a hamburger? How can there be so much abundance in one supermarket? How does one hold on to their homeland and culture while embracing and acclimating to a new world? Do you let go of your past in order to reach out for the future? Russian Tattoo is a very interesting and entertaining story that will enable you to see this whole new world through Elena’s eyes. She weaves stories with beautiful descriptions that transport you from one world to another, while asking questions along the way, in order find answers in the end. Russian Tattoo is brilliantly written and highly entertaining.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    Having read her earlier book, a Mountain of Crumbs, I couldn't wait to tackle this novel. It definitely is a stand alone but for more insight into her life, I would suggest beginning with her previous book. I love novels where I learn something more that enlightens my life and this book certainly filled the bill. It begins with 24 year old Elena leaving the Soviet Union in 1980,to escape its tyranny and a repressive mother by marrying a man she only knew for 4 weeks. The rest of the novel focuse Having read her earlier book, a Mountain of Crumbs, I couldn't wait to tackle this novel. It definitely is a stand alone but for more insight into her life, I would suggest beginning with her previous book. I love novels where I learn something more that enlightens my life and this book certainly filled the bill. It begins with 24 year old Elena leaving the Soviet Union in 1980,to escape its tyranny and a repressive mother by marrying a man she only knew for 4 weeks. The rest of the novel focuses on her amazement at the wonders of the US that we all take for granted-from our abundant supermarkets to our houses and stores. She then contrasts this with her experience of the Soviet Union where there were long bread lines,unsanitary hospital conditions, and a collective power that infiltrated daily life. She is often ruminating and contrasting the different aspects of life here and abroad, feeling torn between two countries. The book is also an exploration of mother /daughter ties for despite many years absence her mother chooses to uproot herself and come live with her in America. This short wrap up does not do the book justice. For those people who like memoirs, this is a real winner!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Raluca Sandu

    What a wonderfully written book and what a powerful memoire. I was extremely touched by so many things in this book I don’t even know where to start from; so many Sovietic moments and memories that I was able to correlate with my mother’s accounts of communist Romania and with my own recollections of post-communist Romania. So many moments in this book that made me laugh; situations in which I found myself as well when arriving on foreign western land. (view spoiler)[ This book has taken me throu What a wonderfully written book and what a powerful memoire. I was extremely touched by so many things in this book I don’t even know where to start from; so many Sovietic moments and memories that I was able to correlate with my mother’s accounts of communist Romania and with my own recollections of post-communist Romania. So many moments in this book that made me laugh; situations in which I found myself as well when arriving on foreign western land. (view spoiler)[ This book has taken me through a wide range of emotions, from laughter through all the alien moments lived by the author on her arrival to America, to happiness when she chose to be with Andy (and the fact that she still is with him), to sorrow when the 2 family members deceased… but also exasperation, in all the rebellious moments of Sasha’s. Argh!!! She had me so annoyed when she was trying to run away from Russian language, that I almost started studying it myself :) (hide spoiler)] This is one of the rare books that I know will haunt me for days and that I will remember on the long-term. I was lucky enough to win it as a giveaway in exchange of an honest opinion (thank you so much). I’m so looking forward to read A Mountain of Crumbs.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Selina Boatright

    First, let me thank Simon & Schuster for having a contest in which I was one of the very lucky winners to win "Russian Tattoo," by Elena Gorokhova. After reading Elena Gorokhova's first memoir, "A Mountain of Crumbs," I was left wondering: "Well, what happens with her and her new American husband after they settle in America?" And, I am excited to say that this is exactly where "Russian Tattoo" picks up and carries on. It answered many of my questions and gave the insight on how hard it is for a n First, let me thank Simon & Schuster for having a contest in which I was one of the very lucky winners to win "Russian Tattoo," by Elena Gorokhova. After reading Elena Gorokhova's first memoir, "A Mountain of Crumbs," I was left wondering: "Well, what happens with her and her new American husband after they settle in America?" And, I am excited to say that this is exactly where "Russian Tattoo" picks up and carries on. It answered many of my questions and gave the insight on how hard it is for a new immigrant to get adjusted into a completely different culture. Not only does Elena Gorokhova accomplish this, but she pulls you along on the emotional journey of life that most of us can relate to. There is the struggles of the Mother/Daughter relationships, the ups and downs and mysteries of being a parent, and, of course, the extended family relationships. I highly recommend this book. It is well written, insightful, and touches the heart in so many ways. I can't wait and hope that Ms. Gorokhova continues with her writing career.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna Gallegos

    Elena Gorokhova beautifully and painstakingly recounts her life as a woman caught between two opposite cultures as she transitions from an American wife and academic to a Russian-born mother. The memoir largely focuses on how she navigates these roles while being plagued with this feeling of foreignness with her family. This is relived through vignettes scattered throughout the book: her first husband can't understand why she doesn't dress like American girls; Andy's family can't fathom why she Elena Gorokhova beautifully and painstakingly recounts her life as a woman caught between two opposite cultures as she transitions from an American wife and academic to a Russian-born mother. The memoir largely focuses on how she navigates these roles while being plagued with this feeling of foreignness with her family. This is relived through vignettes scattered throughout the book: her first husband can't understand why she doesn't dress like American girls; Andy's family can't fathom why she cooks mushrooms found in the woods; her mother thinks she's wrong in throwing away leftover food; while her daughter wants her to stop pressuring her to learn Russian. This is not to paint the memoir as a negative book because the reader begins to see how she grows into being a Russian-American through her relationships and the satisfaction she gets from teaching English to fellow immigrants. Russian Tattoo is a quick and charming read for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of the cultural negotiation that immigrants go through as Americans.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I received this book as part of the Goodreads giveaway. (Thanks!) I went back and forth between giving it 3 or 4 stars. The book is a memoir of the author, Elena Gorokhova, who moved from Russia at the age of 24 to marry an American man. This book told of many things she had to adjust to as an immigrant and of her personal experiences in the both the US and Russia. Why I ultimately decided to give it 4 stars is that I work with a lot of Russian families in my job and I could see many of the thi I received this book as part of the Goodreads giveaway. (Thanks!) I went back and forth between giving it 3 or 4 stars. The book is a memoir of the author, Elena Gorokhova, who moved from Russia at the age of 24 to marry an American man. This book told of many things she had to adjust to as an immigrant and of her personal experiences in the both the US and Russia. Why I ultimately decided to give it 4 stars is that I work with a lot of Russian families in my job and I could see many of the things she had mentioned in her book in those families. It made me wonder about what their transitions were like and if they were struggling with the same things that she had. I think what was most impactful on me was to see how her relationship with her mom shaped who she became and how that transferred to the relationship with her daughter. Thanks again for the book!

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