January 01, 2011

Siberia, Emigration, Gorky and Georgia

Stalina Folskaya, a 58-year-old Russian émigré to the US in 1991, is the sort of sweet, accepting soul who tells a beleaguered nursing student she smells like peaches, just to brighten her day. Named Stalina as a joke or a talisman (after all, they couldn’t possibly send a Jew named for Stalin to Siberia), she loves her name rather than shuns it – people’s reaction to it can tell her what they expect of the world.

But Stalin died, the Soviet Union died, and Stalina has transplanted herself to a dying suburb of Hartford, CT, where a friendly cabby tells Stalina, upon hearing that her mother too has died in far off St. Petersburg, “I’m sorry. It’s like that, people and things go away, they end, leave us to ourselves.”

Left to herself in America, Stalina expresses a relentless immigrant optimism and creativity, opening her to all sorts of interesting people and experiences at the by-the-hour motel where she works. And her difficult past slowly unfolds before us through her poignant, first-person memories. Yet she has not an ounce of resentment or hatred about the past, and the world she sees – full of kind words and considerate observations, one all about the pursuit of happiness – is one we want to inhabit and accept as fully as she does.

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