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20 November 2018

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Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo

By Boris Fishman (Harper, $9.95)

As the novel opens, an adopted child has run off from his doting parents – a mismatched pair of post-Soviet Jewish expats (she from Ukraine, he from Belarus).

Max, the eight-year-old child, is the offspring of Montana teens, whose biological mother had offered a cryptic warning to Maya, the adoptive-Ukranian-radiologist of a mother (who wants to be a chef): “don’t let my baby do rodeo.” For his part, Alex, the adoptive-father-loyal-son (who wants a more safe, secure life), feels that “adopted children are second-class.”

Maya is emotional and ambitious, Alex is stoic and cautious, and the pair are penned up in New Jersey, doted over by Alex’s parents. For all four of them, Max, the gentile-child-interloper, is the unwitting object through which they must work out their insecurities, hopes and (most of all) fears.

When Max is found, he begins to act with a feral intensity that seems to offer his mystified parents just one option: a road trip to Montana to find the boy’s birth parents, who surely must have an explanation.

But road trips, as we know, often have consequences far beyond the often ill-advised food choices made along the way. Frequently they reveal the true characters of their participants, to say nothing of the fragility of the worlds they inhabit. “How little,” Alex summarizes, “it took to unravel things, compared to what it took to make them cohere.”

Without offering spoilers, suffice it to say that Max is not the only one who wants to explore where the wild things are, and the beginning and end of this road are very different places. As a pivotal character notes, in life “you get what you want, but not what you were planning.”

A beautiful novel about family and self-discovery by a gifted Russian-American author.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2017