Moth­er Country

  • Review
By – February 25, 2019

An emo­tion­al­ly charged and nos­tal­gia-induc­ing tale, Iri­na Reyn’s newest nov­el, Moth­er Coun­try, por­trays a moth­er des­per­ate to reunite with her daugh­ter who is trapped in war-torn Ukraine.

To those around her, Nadia seems to be just anoth­er Brighton Beach res­i­dent doing what it takes to get by. She works two jobs, has a few close friends, and occa­sion­al­ly attends Eng­lish lan­guage class­es. What she’s hes­i­tant to share with oth­ers, how­ev­er, is what defines her work eth­ic and indeed her entire life: after a six-year sep­a­ra­tion, Nadia is still fight­ing for her daugh­ter to be allowed to take asy­lum in the Unit­ed States.

Moth­er Coun­try presents a mul­ti­fac­eted por­trait of a moth­er who can­not be with her child. Although her daugh­ter, Laris­s­ka, is an adult, Nadia nev­er ceas­es to wor­ry about her insulin intake, her love life, or their semi-estranged rela­tion­ship. For much of the nov­el, Nadia strug­gles to rec­on­cile the affec­tion­ate daugh­ter she left behind with the now eva­sive and cold Lakris­sa she rarely man­ages to reach on Skype. Nadia feels caught on one end of a tug-of-war with her own moth­er coun­try” for her daugh­ter. News sto­ries and her mem­o­ries of home cause long­ing to mix with bit­ter resent­ment. Where should Nadia’s loy­al­ties lie — with her coun­try or with her family?

Reyn’s nov­el also high­lights the nuances of diverse pop­u­la­tions of New York. Nadia’s neigh­bor­hood in Brook­lyn and the fash­ion­able area of the bor­ough in which she works as a nan­ny are dif­fer­ent uni­vers­es. As Reyn writes, only the por­tal of labor brought the two worlds into stark align­ment.” Com­pared to her wor­ries about her own daugh­ter, those of her employ­er often seem absurd and triv­ial. But Nadia’s encounter with dif­fer­ent cul­tures ulti­mate­ly makes her willpow­er even stronger. Nev­er hav­ing met a Jew before she immi­grat­ed, Nadia sud­den­ly finds her­self in a place where the iden­ti­ties of East­ern Euro­pean migrants and Jew­ish peo­ple are high­ly inter­twined. She begins to date a Jew­ish man, Boris, who becomes a great sup­port in her pur­suit to be reunit­ed with her daugh­ter — a goal she might oth­er­wise have giv­en up. The novel’s por­tray­al of the rela­tion­ships among dif­fer­ent Brook­lyn inhab­i­tants is not only real­is­tic, but also serves as a com­pelling micro­cosm of an increas­ing­ly glob­al­ized world.

Reyn’s mas­ter­ful evo­ca­tion of the anx­i­ety, inse­cu­ri­ties, and shame involved with leav­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber in an unsta­ble coun­try (even when that deci­sion seems nec­es­sary) like­wise has broad­er impli­ca­tions in today’s polit­i­cal land­scape. Moth­er Coun­try illu­mi­nates a mother’s love and per­sis­tence in the face of obsta­cles stand­ing between her and her child.

Discussion Questions