Failures of Domesticity in Contemporary Russian-American Literature: Vapnyar, Krasikov, Ulinich, and Reyn

Karen Ryan

Abstract


Hybrid literature has flourished in the Russian diaspora in the last decade and much of it is semi-autobiographical, concerned with the reconfiguration of identity in emigration. It dwells productively on the translation of the self and (more broadly) on the relationship between center and margin in the post-Soviet, transnational world. Gender roles are subject to contestation, as writers interrogate and reconsider expectations inherited from traditional Russian culture. This article situates Russian hybrid literature vis-à-vis Western feminism, taking into account Russian women’s particular experience of feminism. Four female writers of contemporary Russian-American literature – Lara Vapnyar, Sana Krasikov, Anya Ulinich, and Irina Reyn – inscribe failures of domesticity into their prose. Their female characters who cannot or do not cook or clean problematize woman’s role as nurturer. Home (geographic or imaginary) carries a semantic load of limitation and restriction, so failure as a homemaker may be paradoxically liberating. For female characters working in the West to support their families in Russia, domesticity is sometimes even more darkly cast as servitude. Rejection of traditional Russian definitions of women’s gender roles may signal successful renogotiation of identity in the diaspora. Although these writers may express nostalgia for the Russian culture of their early childhood, their critique of the tyranny of home is a powerful narrative gesture. Failures of domesticity represent successful steps in the redefinition of the self and they support these writers’ claim to transnational status.

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ISSN 1920-0323