Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Alina Adams

Alina Adams was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and emigrated from the USSR with her family in 1977. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.

Adams's new novel is The Nesting Dolls.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

There is a funny story behind the title of my book. I originally called it Love Is Not a Potato, after the first line of the book, and a Russian expression (Love is not a potato. When it goes bad, you can't throw it out the window.) My agent thought it sounded like a children's book, so I changed it to Mother Tongue, to highlight how difficult it is to communicate between generations even when you speak the same language - and especially when you don't. My editor, however, felt that it sounded like a nonfiction title, so we went back to the drawing board. I eventually asked my friends on Facebook to suggest a title, and one of the suggestions was The Nesting Dolls. Nesting dolls are dolls who live one inside of the other, and The Nesting Dolls is the story of three women who carry their families' stories inside of them, which affects every choice they make moving forward.

What's in a name?

I love names! I can't start writing a new story unless I have a name for every character. In The Nesting Dolls, the heroine's name, Daria, is particularly meaningful. Daria is a Russian name. Daria is Jewish in Odessa, USSR in the 1930s. Her mother deliberately brings her from the small village they live in to a major city in order to improve her daughter's marriage prospects. She forces her to learn Russian instead of speaking Yiddish, and she changes her name from Dvora (Deborah) to Daria, so she can better assimilate to the new Soviet Union. It doesn't go well.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teen-age self would be very surprised to learn that I wrote a book set in the USSR. My teen-age self wanted nothing more than to be all American and to write books about all-American characters who spoke perfect English and weren't weirdly foreign in any way.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I have no problems with beginnings or endings. Middles, however, I always suspect of trying to kill me. The goal is to write a very long beginning, and then immediately jump into a very long ending, thus skipping the murderous middle as quickly as possible.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I have a tendency to make sarcastic comments in my head as I observe a situation. So do they. In the third section, my character, Zoe, the daughter of Soviet-Jewish immigrants who lives in NYC, meets an African-American computer programmer who went to private school and loves science-fiction. My husband is an African-American (one-time) computer programmer who went to and now teachers at a private school. He also may have literally over 1000 science fiction novels and comic books in boxes stashed about our home - and in a separate storage space. As our oldest son observed, "Such a common story!"

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My parents, my grandparents, many of the stories in the first two sections are theirs. Also, my husband and his parents. Being with him for the past 22 years has given me a perspective on America I never could have had as an immigrant. I like to think that The Nesting Dolls tells a story that's universal, but through a very particular lens, which wouldn't have been possible without the life I've lived up to this point.
Visit Alina Adams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue