Review: The Nesting Dolls by Cynthia Rogers Parks

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"A mother-daughter cry can be risky. You don't really know who's comforting whom when both of you have dissolved into blubbering fools at once. But there are just times when it's the very thing. And this was one of those times."

 

USReviewThe history of Russian diaspora offers a very vivid illustration of the developments in the 20th century and how people from different ethnic groups are impacted on a general scale. From the fall of the Provisional Priamur Government in Russia to the rise of the Red Guards in China, Russians struggle to earn their rightful place in various republics and cultural environments. Enveloped in these events and efforts to assimilate are souls and their stories thriving in war tension and making a living out of scratch. Parks' The Nesting Dolls is a portrayal of one of these stories—amazing, momentous, terrible, inspiring, moving and daring—uniquely situated at the center of world history.

The Nesting Dolls is the life stories of the three-generation Petrova from grandmother Maria, daughter Anna to granddaughter Emily. The intertwined stories of these women of Russian descent starts in the Petrova’s apartment in Shanghai and ends in Anna's garden in Atlanta. Maria's marriage with Charlie Atwood has seemingly closed the gap between the two cities until readers are introduced to a moving scene between a mother and a daughter and a passionate abandon. In the framework of this overwhelming gap and abandonment, Emily's life is shaped and tossed upside down.

Parks provides a story plot that is stimulating and thought-provoking. She presents a comprehensive picture of the diaspora communities of Shanghai, which started on the arrival of the American troops in Japan after its surrender in 1945. She idealized the thriving and democratic pre-communist Shanghai wherein the Russian Slavs and Jews, the Englishmen and Chinese among others, live harmoniously. Readers are introduced to old three-in-one Shanghai—International Settlement, French Concession, and Chinese Municipality—each entity administered autonomously.

Drawing on a family saga, Parks explores the prevailing social norms in the Deep South, as Maria and her new family moves to Georgia, her husband Charlie's home state. The Atwood's family saga is far from a creative invention. With Georgia's deep social and historical roots, Parks brings to life some facets of a remembered dark past. She, however, employs a redemptive approach, as mistakes are corrected and for the second time in her life, Emily found herself in her mother's arms.

The Nesting Dolls goes after sensitive issues that are relevant to diversity, multiculturalism and the difficult choices people make who found themselves on the opposite ends of these philosophies. From the book's prologue, the thirty-one chapters to the epilogue, the discourses about sameness of humanity's core values are embedded. It appeals to the emotion convincing readers that there is a Maria in every diaspora. It then reminds everyone that in pulling together many shades of human compassion and understanding that the complicated, sensitive, and at times, arcane facet of a given society is addressed and altered for the better.

The book has possible applications for a variety of stakeholders in the field of history and education. It can inspire discussions among the over three million Americans of Russian descent, Russians inside and outside of Russia, and students of Russian and Eastern European history. Education researchers and literary writers can also glean unique angles about Russian diaspora from the novel, which then can provide avenues for further research and literary creation. Additionally, the communities that flourished under the Shanghai International Settlement are also interesting subjects of study.

 

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Photo Credit: Leigh Walker Books

Originally published at theusreview.com. © 2014, The US Review of Books. All Rights Reserved.

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