A woman growing up in a family of Russian immigrants in the 1910s seeks a thoroughly American life.
Yelena is the first American born to her Old Believer Russian Orthodox parents, who are building a life in a Pennsylvania Appalachian town. This town, in the first decades of the 20th century, is filled with Russian transplants and a new church with a dome. Here, boys quit grade school for the coal mines and girls are married off at fourteen. The young pair up, give birth to more babies than they can feed, and make shaky starts in their new world. However, Yelena craves a different path. Will she find her happy American ending or will a dreaded Russian ending be her fate?
In this immersive novel, Zuravleff weaves Russian fairy tales and fables into a family saga within the storied American landscape. The challenges facing immigrants—and the fragility of citizenship—are just as unsettling and surprising today as they were 100 years ago. American Ending is a poignant reminder that everything that is happening in America has already happened.
It’s small acts of inventiveness, generosity, and love that keep individuals going when hard times close in. This is the wisdom and warmth of American Ending, which resurrects a community of immigrants from a century ago in magical, living detail to tell a story that rings true in the present."—Oprah Daily
"The narrator’s voice and her story are so unusually vivid it feels like Zuravleff is channeling a real person."—Kirkus
"As [the main character] Yelena comes of age and looks on as her family and neighbors stumble through a series of weddings and births (all with copious amounts of vodka), she begins to question whether this is the life for her. Zuravleff richly describes the hardscrabble setting, capturing the horrific working conditions, her characters’ will to provide for their families, and how all of it is stifling to Yelena. Fans of 20th-century immigrant stories ought to take a look."—Publishers Weekly
"How I loved spending time with Yelena in her vivid, terrible and—most astonishingly—joyous time and place. Mary Kay Zuravleff’s novel manages to capture all the struggle and the grief endured by this particular, unsung set of immigrants without ever veering into caricature or melodrama. In Yelena’s clear-eyed telling, in her honesty and love, every painful obstacle to attaining that intractable American promise of a better life is made unique—wholly fresh and achingly believable. Oh, and the food! Gorgeous.”—Alice McDermott, author of The Ninth Hour and Charming Billy
“Did Mary Kay Zuravleff time travel to write this book? It’s as if she truly lived in the past—all the details so vivid, and real—to bring us a novel of the moment. It is the old and forever new story of immigration.”—Jane Hamilton, author of Map of the World
“I fell in love with Yelena—from the very start she reminded me of My Antonia! So many stories of immigration focus on the men, but it’s the women who kept the family together, had the courage to leave their villages, who stuck it out in a strange land. In American Ending, Mary Kay Zuravleff has created an unforgettable heroine, one with the courage to write her own story and the creativity and heart to not just pull herself out of her circumstances, but to bring others with her. That is one of the great achievements of this novel: Not just the individual grit of the immigrant, but the communal spirit that lifts all the newcomers, the thousands strands that bind us all together, the activists who make sure that fairness prevails, the unions. It is such a deeply felt, humane and timeless treatment of a timeless story. And it gives so much to reflect upon in our current moment.”—Ana Menéndez, author of The Apartment and Loving Che
“American Ending is an exhilarating new take on the great American immigration story, a coming-of-age and getting-of-wisdom tale about what this country promises and withholds. Its young heroine is a funny, smart, and heartbreaking guide to a world full of cruelties and wonders. Mary Kay Zuravleff has given us a vivid, unforgettable portrait of an immigrant community and the wry, richly colored, and darkly enchanting stories it tells itself to survive.”—Margaret Talbot, New Yorker staff writer