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.
Anastasia Shymanovich currently lives and works in New York City. She graduated UNCG with a BA in sociology.