March 2024

Mother Doll

By Katya Apekina
Review by
In Mother Doll, Katya Apekina hits on something beautifully innate: Who are we if not the histories of our ancestors?
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Zhenia’s life is, admittedly, not going as planned. Having aspired to be an actor in Los Angeles, she now works as a medical translator for Russian-speaking patients, struggling to salvage what’s left of her marriage after breaking the news of a surprise pregnancy to her husband. So when a psychic named Paul calls to say that Zhenia’s deceased great-grandmother Irina wants Zhenia to listen to her life story and write it down, Zhenia hesitates only briefly; she has little reason to say no. Irina’s spirit seeks forgiveness from Zhenia, though she knows it will be challenging to obtain. They are both painfully aware of the generational pain stemming from Irina’s abandonment of Zhenia’s adored, and currently dying, grandmother Vera, when Vera was a young child. 

Through Zhenia’s listening sessions, author Katya Apekina makes the concept of ancestral connection fascinatingly tangible. Paul is able to connect Zhenia with Irina by venturing into a post-death communal “cloud” of regret, where Irina and others reside until absolved by the living. With Paul as an intermediary, Irina tells Zhenia tales of growing up in early 1900s Russia.

Apekina isn’t new to literary fiction; her first novel, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and named a Best Book of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews and other outlets. But Mother Doll marks her triumphant first foray into fabulism. While Irina’s story is largely distinct and chronological, Zhenia’s life unfolds only in connection to her great-grandmother’s, producing parallel narratives that are impressively inseparable. Even as more details about Irina’s life surface, the reader remains grounded in Zhenia’s experiences, her dry humor lending a lightness to otherwise profound subject matter.

For those who enjoy diving into the metaphorical, Mother Doll holds a deep wisdom. Apekina’s writing is witty and compellingly relatable, leading to a fast-paced reading experience. She hits on something beautifully innate: Who are we if not the histories of our ancestors?

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Mother Doll

Mother Doll

By Katya Apekina
ISBN 9781419770951

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