Books by Ellen Litman
A heartfelt and deftly told coming-of-age story, Mannequin Girl captures the bleakness of Soviet Russia and the hopeful turmoil of adolescence “A perfect little figure,” he says. “Our mannequin girl.” She knows who mannequin girls are. They are in her grandmother’s Working Woman magazines, modeling flouncy dresses and berets. “Bend,” he tells her, and she does, so pliant, so obedient.” Growing up in Soviet Russia, Kat Knopman worships her parents, temperamental Anechka and soft-hearted, absent-minded Misha. Young Jewish intellectuals, they teach literature at a Moscow school, run a drama club, and dabble in political radicalism. Kat sees herself as their heir and ally. But when she’s diagnosed with rapidly-progressing scoliosis, the trajectory of her life changes and she finds herself at a different institution—a school-sanatorium for children with spinal ailments. Confined to a brace, surrounded by unsympathetic peers, Kat embarks on a quest to prove that she can be as exceptional as her parents: a beauty, an intellect, and free spirit despite her physical limitations, her Jewishness, and her suspicion that her beloved parents are in fact flawed. Can a girl with a crooked spine really be a mannequin girl, her parents’ pride and her doctors’ and teachers’ glory? Or will she prove to be something far more ordinary—and, thereby, more her own? An unforgettable heroine, Kat will have to find the courage to face the world and break free not only of her metal brace but of all the constraints that bind her.
The Last Chicken in America (Norton, 2007)
From the Publisher’s Catalogue: Twelve linked, wryly humorous stories about an unforgettable cast of Russian-Jewish immigrants trying to assimilate in a new world. Masha is just out of high school when her family arrives in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. With touching lightheartedness and tremendous humor, these stories trace her struggles and those of other Russians in the community to find their own place in the new society — seniors alienated from their children, spouses trying to hold their families together while grappling with unemployment, young adults searching for love. In “Dancers” the home of a married couple is invaded by a pair of hedonistic and financially unstable performers. The hero of “Trajectory of Frying Pans” falls for a coworker who may or may not be trapped in a green-card marriage. In “About Kamyshinskiy” a man, living under the scrutiny of his daughters and neighbors, is trying to start over after the death of his wife. This is an impressive debut about the sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious collision of cultures, religions, and generations in contemporary America.