Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

From Russia with love; from Russia with hate


Entering the classroom of a summer course I am taking on English language and grammar, I grab a random desk in the front right corner of the room, and find myself in an international section, all of a sudden. So we get together into a group, where we’re supposed to discuss our relationship to language. The Hispanic guy says he loves Spanish. He talks about how Hispanics tend to stick together as a group. This is kind of interesting, because from what I remember in high school in New York, the Russians also sometimes stick together as a group, but it’s almost like they also hate that they have to do it. Almost like they have no choice. A surprise: a nice young girl who sits right beside me is Ukrainian. She came here at the age of 2, she assures me quickly. How does she feel about her roots? In one of our mini-essays later that week, she’ll write she wishes she could eliminate that tell-all ethnic letter “y” in her beautiful name.

“How about you?” they ask. “You love Russian, right?”

Oh, no, not me,” I say.

 “I love English,” I hurry to tell them, earnestly. Which I do. Seriously, I am in love LOVE love with the English language.


 I hate my scared childhood. I hate the way the Russians will sometimes treat those who wait on them. I hate the pampered, panicky way they sometimes raise their children.

When I happen to witness it in a restaurant somewhere, or catch it in a conversation I’m overhearing, it twists my stomach, that I’m so-much-better-than-you attitude.

When I immigrated here to New York City at the age of fifteen/about to be sixteen, I embraced my new home with all of my heart and soul. It wasn’t always easy, but in high school I tried so hard to hang out with American friends, hook up with American boyfriends ONLY. I wanted so desperately to create a new life for myself, a life that was fully here, and I think today, at the age of 32, I could fully say that I have – created that life. My beloved hubby is French/Italian. My all-around BFF is TOTALLY American, as are all of my writing friends, whom I cherish. I live in a small New Jersey town where there is barely a Russian soul, in fact. I am pursuing two very American professions – writing and teaching school, and earlier, journalism (not beezness, or, say, the medical field, which would be a more popular choice for a Russian today).

And yet, what am I blogging about, right now?

What lullabies do I hum for my American kids when I put them to bed? (Well, for my daughter, anyway, my son is too old for that kind of thing now.)                                                                                                                                                          

Where was my first novel set? In Russia.

And the second one? In the Ukraine/the Soviet Union.

What is wrong with me, then?

I sometimes wish it weren’t so. But the truth is, this yucky-and yet tragically tortured, and twisted and once in a while beautiful Russian-Soviet upbringing is a part of who I am. I think even when I deny it, my writing self knows it. The blogging me knows it. The me who wants to be friends with the Ukrainian girl in my class knows it too.

Yeah, I love English, its’ seeming simplicity, its directedness, its economy, its modern feel. And yet I use Russian words in my American YA novels. I shake my finger at my daughter when she plays a trick on me and playfully call her “hooliganka.

I say I hate my Russian childhood. I hate the fact that I grew up indoctrinated and paranoid. And yet, I also love the freedom of the way I grew up. Playing at construction sites. Roaming all over the city. Getting in a little bit of trouble here and there, and most of the time, getting away with it.

I’d lie if I said I didn’t like the children’s stories I’d been read. Or the way my mama and I listened to classical music together.

I really think I’m as American as anyone else out there, maybe in some ways more so. But I can still admire that Russian figure skater couple on TV, or sway to a velvety melody of an old cheesy Soviet song. 

This is who I am. I don’t think I’ll ever fully embrace it. But I can’t escape it.


Where are you from? Are you proud of it? How does the place where you grew up inform who and what you are now?

Tell me!! 🙂


May 23, 2010 - Posted by | The U.S.S.R.


  1. Hi Katia,
    Great post! I’m from Pennsylvania originally (by way of my grandparents from Ireland, Scotland, and Germany). However, I am married to a man who was born in Communist Romania and spent part of his childhood in immediately post-Communist Romania. We are both proud of our origins and find it fascinating to compare childhood influences (he spent the other part of his childhood in a large city while I grew up in tiny rural town, so we have other differences too).

    Comment by pskillings | May 28, 2010 | Reply

    • Differences are great. They make for an even more interesting family life. My husband and I are like that too – he’s French/Italian — his history too is quite amazing 🙂 Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

      Comment by Katia Raina | May 28, 2010 | Reply

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