Book Review: My Mother’s Secret by Alina Adams

This followup novel to Nesting Dolls is basically strong, and the setting is a place that many American readers may not be familiar with, the Soviet attempt at creating an “autonomous” Jewish homeland.  

The novel opens with Regina, our heroine, on the train escaping from the Soviet secret police by traveling without papers to Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region set up by the Soviets.  The year is 1935 and Regina is a true believer.  She believes that the communist government has the people’s best interests at heart. She believes that the communists want to be fai. She believes that Birobidzhan will be a land flowing with milk and honey, as the propaganda promises.  
Adams does a good job setting up a naive heroine, while letting the reader in on what is really going on.  Regina’s parents, for instance, do not share her illusions. She also does a good job weaving in the backstory and giving the reader an emotional payoff, all well done.

Where the novel falters a little is in the heavy-handedness of Regina’s misbelief/insecurities and the message about trusting yourself to make choices.  While insecurity is fine as a motivation for a character, the delivery is a little blunt and telly.  Rather than let the reader figure it out, which by the way, they could have, because the story is very good, Adams chooses to hit us upside the head with it.  
Likewise the message.  A more subtle approach that respects the reader would have made the book more enjoyable.  When the daughter has to tell the reader through interiority that she is hitting her mother where it hurts by invoking her insecurity, I was annoyed.  Of course she does, that is what daughters do!  Trust the reader, trust the reader, trust the reader.  I promise you do not have to spell it out in every character’s thoughts and dialogue for us to get it.  Have the message in your mind and it will get to the page through the story, as it should.
The story and characters are well drawn, and the setting is impeccable—I could almost feel the mosquitoes biting me during the harvest.  It is unfortunate that it goes a little overboard on the message, otherwise, it is a wonderful novel.

Published by Robin Henry

Independent Scholar and Book Coach specializing in Historical Fiction and Literary Fan Fiction.

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