A Russian family, “ex-big, ex-great, ex-prosperous” has dwindled to five members living in Tientsin, China in 1937. They operate a boarding house whose rooms they rent to a rag-tag assortment of people of various nationalities whose lives are defined in terms of what they no longer have.
The family is loving, interested in life, and hopeful for the future.
Before long, the Japanese invade China and the family’s already precarious financial situation becomes dire.
Mother has to let the young people leave: Lida to become an American war bride, Dima to be adopted by a lonely English woman, Peter to be smuggled back into Russia. As the biological family scatters, Mother loves the boarders into becoming a family.
Nina Fedorova’s fluid prose will be welcomed by anyone put off by the dense, turgid paragraphs that mark most Russian works. She writes with wit, and sensitivity about the struggles of people whose lives consist mainly of looking for work and doing without. By then end of The Family, however, her praise of strong women slips into sentimentality.
Despite that sentimentality, The Family remains an eye-opening glimpse of the lives of people without passports in a hostile world.
by Nina Fedorova
Little, Brown, 1940
My grade: B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni