by Sonia Isard

Post-Soviet Sisters

Tevye’s daughters, modernized

The Cosmopolitans (Livingston Press, $17.95), a debut novel from Nadia Kalman, is an engaging look at the Russian immigrant experience in America through a complex family story — something of an anti-epic that chronicles how the Molochniks acculturate into the 21st century. The novel mirrors the structure of Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories , the gradual sacrifice of one daughter after another to the trials and scandals of modernity, much to the sadness and confusion of the seemingly unworldly parents. Kalman nods explicitly to her inspirations — the classical Russian and Russian-Jewish literary traditions that color her characters’ logic and language — from the family’s last name (Molochnik, Tevye’s moniker in the Russian translation) to the father, Osip (for the poet Mandelshtam, quoted in the epigraph) and the mother, Stalina (for, well, the obvious). Under Kalman’s deft touch, these unconcealed references highlight the Molochnik’s cultural frame of reference, enriching our understanding of the family’s context with warmth and wit.

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