Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In “The Repatriates,” a successful Wall Street professional returns to Russia, whereas in “Maia in Yonkers,” Maia leaves her son in Georgia to earn a living and help support her family. In “Asal,” Gulia abandons a more than comfortable material life to work as a nanny in Manhattan, and in “Better Half” Anya interrupts her education in Russia to work in a diner in Upstate New York. Discuss the role that financial decisions play in these stories. How are the characters’ motivations different from those of other immigrant characters you’ve read about? What motivations aside from financial ones drive them? Do the stories address a larger theme or message about the role money plays in our life decisions?
2. Most of the stories in One More Year are about women in relationships that are unresolved in some way or that require certain sacrifices and compromises. Do you see a similar vein through all of the stories? Discuss a common thread with respect to the theme of compromise in relationships.
1. When Ilona thinks about the waiter at Delmonico’s referring to her and Earl as Mr. Brauer and Mrs. Brauer, she thinks: “Did she really look old enough to pass for his wife? Or were they playing the game, too? Well, it didn’t matter to her what those people believed, whether they thought she was his wife or his girlfriend or his mistress. She was happy to cooperate with whatever public fantasy he had planned.”
How does the idea of “public fantasies” operate in this story? Do you believe Ilona when she says it doesn’t matter to her what “those people” believe? What are some other “public fantasies” that people you know perpetuate, passively or actively, in their relationships with others?
2. What roles do gossip and innuendo play in the story? In what sense is Ilona’s situation less scandalous than the rumors? In what ways more desperate? How does Ilona compare to nineteenth- century heroines such as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary? In what ways is she similar to or different from these women?
“Maia in Yonkers”
1. After speaking with her sister, Maia wonders, “Must every simple decency now be counted?” How is this a telling statement about the link between money and familial obligation in the story? What are the ways in which these “obligations” get outsourced in both families?
2. Gogi is very particular about the brand-name clothes and electronics he wants his mother to send him. He’s infatuated with a hip-hop style, but when he overhears two black teenagers talking on the ferry, he surprises Maia with a racist comment. Do you see Gogi as prejudiced, or does his statement reveal more complex feelings about visiting the United States? In what other ways is his behavior surprising to Maia? In what ways does he seem younger than the image he projects?
3. The word deda means mother in Georgian. Gogi calls Maia deda at the end of the story but otherwise uses her first name. Discuss their relationship. Do you think Gogi has learned anything by the end of the story?
1. What does Victor expect from his meeting with his old lover’s daughter? Why is he determined to meet her?
2. What roles do ambition and envy play in this story? In what ways have Victor’s aspirations been frustrated by life? Do you think it’s possible for a person like Victor to be happy? Do you think he has any regrets?
1. Gulia feels “invisible” in New York. Walking down the street, she realizes that people are not looking at her and “seeing a servant,” but that they also don’t care about her at all. How does Gulia’s new anonymity influence her thinking and behavior? How is a metropolis like New York liberating for her? How is it disorienting?
2. Gulia tells Vlad that the Soviets would have punished open polygamy, but “now it is like time is moving backward.” What does she mean by this? In what ways are Gulia and Nasrin, though only five years apart in age, representative of two different eras?
3. Do you see Rashid as manipulative or do you find him sympathetic? Does he feel as trapped as Gulia and Nasrin or is he alone responsible for his actions?
1. Do you see Anya as a victim, as somebody taking control of her life, or as both? How would you characterize her romance with Ryan? Who has more power in the relationship, in your opinion?
2. Various characters, including Nick, Alexis, and Anya’s lawyer, Erin, address Anya in ways she considers patronizing. How does she tolerate their attitudes in order to benefit from them? Can you think of times in your life that you’ve done the same? Discuss the role of class in this story.
1. What are some ways the story’s title applies to the different characters? What are the different types of “debt” at play?
2. Why does Lev’s wife, Dina, distrust Sonya’s precociousness? Is her assessment fair?
1. The theme of “cons” looms throughout “The Repatriates.” What are the large and small ways people con one another in this story? What do you think about the attitude, expressed in the story, that those who get conned have it coming?
2. How does Grisha’s frustrated ambition compare with Victor’s in “The Alternate”? The exploration of religion and spirituality plays a role in both these men’s reevaluation of their lives. Do you think there is any connection between their spiritual searchings and their respective success or failure in business? Discuss.
3. Do you think there are ways in which Grisha is justified in what he is doing? Do you believe that Lera’s forgiveness of him is genuine? How do you read the last paragraph?
“There Will Be No Fourth Rome”
1. Like Gulia in “Asal,” Larisa feels herself at odds with the social changes taking place around her. In what ways are she and Nona mirror opposites of each other? How does Larisa represent a romantic dimension of Russia that is the opposite of the cynical dimension depicted in “The Repatriates”? Do you find Larisa to be a naive or a romantic character?
2. What do you think of Regina’s use of Dr. Spock as a manual for human behavior? Do you believe that “you can’t change another person’s character, though you can change their behavior”?