Summary and book reviews of The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams

The Nesting Dolls

by Alina Adams

The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams X
The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2021, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Book Summary

Spanning nearly a century, from 1930s Siberia to contemporary Brighton Beach, a page-turning, epic family saga centering on three generations of women in one Russian Jewish family - each striving to break free of fate and history, each yearning for love and personal fulfillment - and how the consequences of their choices ripple through time.

Odessa, 1931. Marrying the handsome, wealthy Edward Gordon, Daria―born Dvora Kaganovitch―has fulfilled her mother's dreams. But a woman's plans are no match for the crushing power of Stalin's repressive Soviet state. To survive, Daria is forced to rely on the kindness of a man who takes pride in his own coarseness.

Odessa, 1970. Brilliant young Natasha Crystal is determined to study mathematics. But the Soviets do not allow Jewish students―even those as brilliant as Natasha―to attend an institute as prestigious as Odessa University. With her hopes for the future dashed, Natasha must find a new purpose―one that leads her into the path of a dangerous young man.

Brighton Beach, 2019. Zoe Venakovsky, known to her family as Zoya, has worked hard to leave the suffocating streets and small minds of Brighton Beach behind her―only to find that what she's tried to outrun might just hold her true happiness.

Moving from a Siberian gulag to the underground world of Soviet refuseniks to oceanside Brooklyn, The Nesting Dolls is a heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive story of circumstance, choice, and consequence―and three dynamic unforgettable women, all who will face hardships that force them to compromise their dreams as they fight to fulfill their destinies.

Prologue

2019

"Love is not a potato," Zoe's great-grandmother Alyssa had been telling her since before Zoe was old enough to know for certain what either word meant.

Zoe hoped her confusion was merely a language barrier. Her great-grandmother spoke Russian—and some German. Zoe spoke English—and some Russian. Neither spoke Yiddish. Her great-grandmother was very proud of this.

"Because," Zoe's great-grandmother explains, in Russian, "when love goes bad, you cannot throw it out the window." In Russian, okoshka (window) rhymes with kartoshka (potato).

"What Balissa means," Zoe's mother, Julia, chimes in, using the portmanteau Zoe gave her great-grandmother as a baby. This is what happens when three generations of women—and one so-genial-they-sometimes-forget-he's-in-the-room man—share a three-bedroom apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. There's no such thing as a private conversation. For this we left the Soviet Union?

Then again, this is the neighborhood where a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The stories of Daria, Natasha and Zoe fit into one another like the nesting dolls of the book's title. However, it's not until the women of the family finally begin to share their stories with one another that they realize the importance of the past, and that sometimes getting what you need is better than getting what you want. Adams has created a beautiful story containing rich descriptions, impossible decisions and a family filled with both exasperation and love...continued

Full Review (916 words).

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The author's wry Soviet-Jewish humor enlivens the well-developed characters, who make fatal mistakes as well as selfless sacrifices. This is a satisfying, life-affirming saga.

Booklist
Mesmerizing...Adams' sweeping tale offers captivating explorations of her characters and their complexities, particularly when it comes to their struggles between the pull of the heart and the realities in which they live.

Kirkus Reviews
[A] compelling example of how deeply personal stories can lie beneath the surface of sweeping histories. An imperfect but ambitious family saga that invites us to consider the personal and emotional stakes of political choices.

Author Blurb Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Letter and In Another Time
The Nesting Dolls is a vividly rendered, sweeping historical novel. Alina Adams deftly portrays three generations of women, beautifully weaving their coming of age stories about love, sacrifice, family, and ultimately survival. I absolutely devoured this compulsively readable gem of a novel.

Author Blurb David R. Gillham, New York Times bestselling author of City of Women and Annelies
A moving saga of three generations of women determined to triumph over the forces of history no matter the cost. The Nesting Dolls is memorable story of courage that is both inspiring and bittersweet.

Reader Reviews

Kath

Engaging read loved by our book club hi
Terrific book for book clubs. Filled with memorable, fascinating characters. We see history revealed through the different lives and loves of three generations of one family of Russian women. Each was dealt a very different hand to play at birth. ...   Read More
Marianna Sefanov

Close to home
An excellent book!. It brought back to me all memories from Odessa, very similar to what my family had experienced. Especially the "Coffin problem"! Great characters and description of the Jewish traditions which go from generation to ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Discriminatory "Coffin Problems" in the USSR

Moscow State University In The Nesting Dolls, Natasha dreams of entering the mathematics program at Odessa University. However, after correctly solving all of the initial equations on her entrance exam, she is presented with an additional equation, one that seems impossible to answer. When she cannot answer it, Natasha is failed and refused admission. Heartbroken, she learns that she was given a "Jewish problem," also known as a "coffin problem" or "killer problem," a type of equation specifically designed to keep Jewish students from enrolling at the university. Although The Nesting Dolls is fiction, Natasha's experience was a form of anti-Semitic discrimination faced by many Soviet Jewish students in the 1970s and '80s.

Coffin problems were used to ...

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