In 1980 Anna is a naïve American college student about to leave for Moscow to complete her senior year. Anna’s mother tells her, “Your problem is you have a Russian soul.” Anna is a second generation Russian-American Jew raised on tales of the horrors of her family’s history of Soviet style terror. She embarks with a secret agenda: to find out what really happened to her great grandmother, Zlata, in the village of Gornosaypol in 1918 revolutionary Russia.
Anna enjoys a close relationship with her maternal grandmother Sarah; she learned many Russian songs as a child while in her care. Her grandmother does not encourage her travels to Moscow, but Anna believes she is ready for her journey, having read several of Dostoevsky’s books as well as Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. However, when the doors of the plane open to a dimly lit hallway, soldiers in brown uniforms with rifles slung across their chests are everywhere throughout the international airport. The American students nod wordlessly and huddle close together as they embark on their Russian adventure, daring to speak only in half-whispers.
Layers upon layers of deeply rooted fears unfold as the novel progresses. Anna misses the security and order she had taken for granted while growing up in America. When she is raped her first week In Moscow, she believes there is no recourse for her except to pretend it didn’t happen and avoid the perpetrator at all costs for the duration of her term in Russia.
Her great-grandfather abandons his Russian family when he immigrates to America when his daughter Sarah is ten. Five years later, great-grandmother Zlata’s murder by the revolutionary soldiers leads to the reluctant immigration of the author’s grandmother Sarah as she joins her father.
Sarah is sent to a Jewish social dance within weeks of arriving; her father’s new wife wants her married out as soon as possible. She marries another Russian immigrant, Leon, who’s only a couple years younger than her father, within months of arriving in Boston.
Leon and Sarah have two daughters, Susan and Carol. Sarah suffers from postnatal melancholia, one of the factors that leads Leon to take his young family back to Russia in 1925. They stay through 1931. Susan is the author’s mother, and she tells Anna that her primary memory of those years in Russia is hunger.
The novel explores the immigrant experience on many different levels and various time periods. The plot moves smoothly from one time period to another throughout the novel. Characters are well developed and the pacing keeps the reader turning pages as the layers of deception unfold.
A well-written novel with a powerful storyline that will stay with the reader long after the last page, Forget Russia is a tribute to the interconnectedness of humanity across time, generations, and international borders.