cover image Mother Doll

Mother Doll

Katya Apekina. Overlook, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-7095-1

Apekina (The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish) turns the multigenerational family saga on its head with this sharply original and surprisingly witty tale of a young woman in contemporary Los Angeles, her dying grandmother in New York City, and their ancestor in revolutionary Russia. Zhenia, a 20-something translator based in California, is struggling to come to terms with her beloved grandmother Vera’s dementia and terminal illness, and shamed by her mother for not traveling back east to help. Zhenia has also just told her husband that she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and he’s unhappy with the news. Then she receives a call from a stranger in New York named Paul, who tells her that her dead great-grandmother Irina needs to talk with her. Paul, a medium who normally specializes in pets, met Irina in an overpopulated afterworld, and has agreed to relay her story to Zhenia. A parallel narrative portrays this purgatory as an “undifferentiated cloud,” where, in flashbacks, Irina remembers her passionate adolescence, when she was swayed to join the antimonarchist February Revolution of 1917 by one of her teachers. Now, via Paul, she seeks forgiveness from Zhenia for abandoning Vera in a Russian orphanage and other acts. Apekina avoids the ponderous tone of many historical novels by making Irina a thrillingly vital presence, and allows the parallels between her and her great-granddaughter as young pregnant women to emerge gradually and naturally. The result is a provocative vision of a world in which past and present are not as neatly separated as they appear. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (Mar.)