‘Klotsvog’ by Margarita Khemlin – A Vivacious Self-Justifying Russian Woman


‘Klotsvog’ by Margarita Khemlin (2009) – 245 pages                         Translated from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden

‘Klotsvog’ is by far the liveliest Russian novel I have read that takes place during Communist times. This is thanks to our vivacious first-person narrator Maya. People find a way to live their lives as they want to in almost any circumstances.

‘Klotsvog’ takes the form of a fictional memoir of Maya who was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1930 to a Jewish family. She was on a trip with her mother out of town when her village was destroyed and the rest of her family as well as the rest of the community were murdered by the Nazis.

However Maya’s memoir begins in 1950. Jewish people then still had to worry, because Stalin still had a scheme to murder all the survivors of the Holocaust. Fortunately Stalin died in 1953 which was a great burden removed from the surviving Jewish people in Russia. Maya shares this insight into Communism:

The house is burning but the clock still keeps time.”

In 1950, Maya is a beautiful young woman, and she enters into an affair with her older instructor who is married. Another man named Fima is also interested in her. When she finds out she is pregnant by her instructor, she agrees to marry Fima and attempts to have sex with him so he will believe the baby will be his. She is only partially successful. This sets the pattern for the entire rest of the memoir. By the end Maya has had three husbands, two children, and four other intimate boyfriends, occasionally while she was still married. Of course in one case the husband was fooling around too. When she finds out that her husband is having an affair with his mother’s live-in nurse, she reacts thus:

Of course there could be no talk of love here. This was the usual male impermanence. Romance based on a fresh outward appearance and a young woman’s affected good-naturedness.”

Throughout I admired the honesty and insight of Maya.

Maya is honest in her memoir throughout, but the memoir is an exercise in self-justification as most memoirs are. Maya comes from a Ukrainian Yiddish background, but she does not want her children to speak Yiddish under any circumstances. Her mother and the few other family survivors criticize her mothering of her kids. The boy who is the older child spends much time with the grandmother in Kiev while Maya and one of her husbands move to Moscow. The grandmother instills the boy with some of the old family values, and Maya becomes estranged from the boy. Maya criticizes her daughter severely for being overweight, and the daughter becomes a severe behavior problem. Neither child likes their mother Maya much. In this memoir, Maya attempts to justify her parenting throughout, but is only partially successful.

I liked ‘Klotsvog’ a lot because Maya is an astute woman. But towards the end it does get somewhat discursive or repetitive or ambiguous. But as Maya would say:

But that’s not my point.”

Life is ambiguous.


Grade:    A-



4 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds interesting…
    I’m reading a fascinating novel called The Nuremburg Trials, written from a Russian PoV. It’s so good to read books in translation because they show us an entirely different PoV to the one we tend to think is the ‘only’ version…

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Today there is so much translated fiction it is very difficult to sift the good from the not-so-good, especially since so much of book reviewing today is little more than glorified cheerleading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


      • LOL you are so right about the cheerleading: *sigh* there was another ‘modern masterpiece’ in my inbox today, these modern masterpieces are everywhere!
        And some reviewing is more about pushing an agenda than engaging with a book as a work of literature. Of course it’s good to support causes whether it’s translated fiction, women authors, diversity, People of Colour, LGBTIQ, digging up hidden history or whatever, but that, IMO, shouldn’t be the *reason* to read, it should be a guide to reading widely, across all these causes and also for no reason at all except that it’s a book about something interesting and/or important.

        Liked by 1 person


        • Right you are. Just because the author’s heart is in the right place doesn’t make their novel a modern classic or even literature. It is difficult to separate the two, quality and morality.
          I also am sick of about five new releases a week all with plenty of claims to be brilliant, but I suppose the publishing industry depends on that.
          Right now I’m looking for a terrible novel that I can write a really negative review about so I can re-establish my credibility as an honest book reviewer. 🙂



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