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All Russians Love Birch Treesby Olga Grjasnowa
Synopses & Reviews
An award-winning debut novel about a quirky immigrant’s journey through a multicultural, post-nationalist landscape.
Set in Frankfurt, All Russians Love Birch Trees follows a young immigrant named Masha. Fluent in five languages and able to get by in several others, Masha lives with her boyfriend, Elias. Her best friends are Muslims struggling to obtain residence permits, and her parents rarely leave the house except to compare gas prices. Masha has nearly completed her studies to become an interpreter, when suddenly Elias is hospitalized after a serious soccer injury and dies, forcing her to question a past that has haunted her for years.
Olga Grjasnowa has a unique gift for seeing the funny side of even the most tragic situations. With cool irony, her debut novel tells the story of a headstrong young woman for whom the issue of origin and nationality is immaterial — her Jewish background has taught her she can survive anywhere. Yet Masha isn’t equipped to deal with grief, and this all-too-normal shortcoming gives a particularly bittersweet quality to her adventures.
"The narrator of Grjasnowa's debut novel, Masha Kogan, speaks multiple languages but she doesn't feel at home anywhere. Not in Germany, where her Russian-Jewish family immigrated to while fleeing war in Azerbaijan in 1987. German policy may be to build up its tiny Jewish community, but in practice immigrants of all kinds (especially Masha's friends from Muslim backgrounds) are viewed with distrust. Not in Israel, where she moves after getting a job there as a translator and is suspect — as a Jew who speaks Arabic but not Hebrew. Her computer, which has Arabic stickers on it, is destroyed by guards at the airport because it is viewed as a security risk. Masha discovers Israel to be a jangled, violent place whose residents are either in denial about the violence around them or have trauma-induced stress disorders. Grjasnowa, who was longlisted for the 2012 German Book Prize, reveals herself to be an expert chronicler of modern displacement and of the scars left by the wars that followed the Soviet Union's breakup — wars that most in the West managed to overlook or forget. She's less able, though, to make us care about Masha, who, for all her grieving, flirting, and arguing, is less interesting than her circumstances. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A thoughtful, melancholy study of loss." Kirkus
"[A] provocative first novel." O Magazine
“We know about the immigrant perspective from an American perspective, but Grjasnowa gives us a fresh, important understanding from the European perspective…Grjasnowa tells her story effectively because she works through the personal, which results in a touching and thought-provoking debut novel.” Library Journal
"Grjasnowa elegantly balances explanations and demonstrations so that Masha's world comes to feel almost familiar. All Russians Love Birch Trees is part of a new global literature that sees foreignness as a condition of familiarity, that understands alienation as a way of life." Shelf Awareness
"Grjasnowa...imbues the narrative with a unique set of circumstances related to national and cultural identity...express[ing] the tumultuousness and indirect trajectories of youth against a world that’s anything but fixed." Minneapolis Star Tribune
About the Author
Olga Grjasnowa was born in 1984 in Baku, Azerbaijan, grew up in the Caucasus, and has spent extended periods in Poland, Russia, and israel. She moved to Germany at the age of twelve and is a graduate of the German institute for Literature/Creative Writing in Leipzig. In 2010 she was awarded the Dramatist Prize of the Wiener Wortstätten for her debut play, Mitfühlende Deutsche (Compassionate Germans). She is currently studying dance science at the Berlin Free University. Eva Bacon studied German and English Literature at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and has worked as an international literary scout. This is her first translation of a novel. She lives in Brooklyn.
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