Interviews and Articles

PEN WORLD VOICES - Everything Is Complicated: An Interview With Nadia Kalman, Angela Ajayi, Wild River Review

From the very beginning, Nadia Kalman’s The Cosmopolitans had me thinking about divides—generational and cultural—that occur in immigrant families. As may often happen within these families, a shared past binds the present and the future too loosely, creating awkward and sometimes comical moments between parents and their children. For Kalman, whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the United States when she was a child, such moments were plentiful, it seems—and she skillfully draws upon them to deliver a novel that is equal parts hilarious and bold in its portrayal of the Molochniks, a Russian-Jewish family living in Stamford, Connecticut...(continue reading)

Is There Such a Thing as Jewish Fiction?, by Alan Cheuse, Fiction Editor, Moment Magazine

Let us start by asking: Is there such a creature as a Jewish writer? Jewish mothers gave birth to Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, but these idiosyncratic giants of mid-20th-century American fiction consistently suggested that they were not Jewish writers but rather Jews who wrote about American life in its many incarnations, sometimes focusing on Jewish characters and themes and motifs, sometimes not...(continue reading)

Nadia Kalman at GWU’s Jewish Lit Live, by Andrea Pawley, Potomac Review

Nadia Kalman, author of The Cosmopolitans, spoke to students in George Washington University’s Jewish Lit Live class (and to anyone else who was lucky enough to check the Washington Post’s Going Out Guide and discover that Ms. Kalman was in town)...(continue reading)

Fiction Addiction -- That's Some Good $hi*, by Julia Jackson, Electric Literature

I’d been hearing some buzz around the new(ish) reading series Fiction Addiction, but had failed to make it out to see what all the talk was about. Then I met the series’ curator, Christine Vines, at Franklin Park earlier this month, and, after being impressed by both her writing skills and sweetness, I decided I really had to get over to 2A this month to check it out. This month seemed to be an especially good place to start, with the theme being “Potential” (fitting for the new year), and the readers including Said Sayrafiezadeh, Joshua Furst, Nadia Kalman and Tanya Rey...(continue reading)

Nadia Kalman has crafted a ‘Fiddler’ for these times, by Meredith Deliso, The Brooklyn Paper, November 30, 2010

Finally, “Fiddler on the Roof” gets a 21st-century reboot.

In “The Cosmopolitans,” Prospect Heights-based writer Nadia Kalman uses the iconic musical as a launching pad for a story about a Russian family that flees the Soviet Union and lands, of all places, in Connecticut.

“I watched ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ a couple of times growing up in Stamford, and, as an immigrant from that part of the world, it seemed to reflect how people saw us as immigrants,” said Kalman. “When we came over, people seemed to think we came from a shtetl. That always seemed interesting to me.”

“The Cosmopolitans” follows the Molochnik family and the marriage of its three daughters — a modern downsize from the musical’s five. It boldly begins by referencing Tolstoy’s oft-cited line, “Happy families are all alike,” and this inevitably unhappy family is comprised of one daughter who can’t help channeling the voice of Brezhnev, another who marries an exchange student from Bangladesh, making for some fun cross-cultural satire, and a third who finds herself engaged to — God forbid — a snooty Manhattanite.

Like Tevye, their poor, outnumbered father can’t even begin to understand them.

The title suggests the family’s attempt at worldliness, as well as makes a nod to Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitan campaign.

“I thought the title embodied the cross-cultural things going on in the book,” said Kalman. “I also thought it was funny that it was also the name of a fun drink here in the U.S.”

They certainly didn’t have those in Tevye’s world.

Nadia Kalman reads from “The Cosmopolitans” at Sunny’s Bar [253 Conover St. between Beard and Reed streets in Red Hook, (718) 625-8211], Dec. 5 at 3 pm. Free. For info, visit

©2010 Community Newspaper Group

Prospect Heights Author Releases Debut Novel, by McCarton Ackerman, Prospect Heights Patch, December 3, 2010

Over 45 years after it was originally staged, one Prospect Heights writer is giving "Fiddler on the Roof" a modern-makeover in paperback form.

Nadia Kalman's debut novel, The Cosmopolitans, is loosely based on her own life, telling the story of the Molochnik family, who flee the USSR and end up in suburban Connecticut.

"I wrote the book really quickly over the course of about a year," said Kalman. "Of course, when you're writing five pages a day, there are a lot of things wrong with those five pages. I ended up going through 52 drafts of the book."

Beginning with a reference to one of Tolstoy's most quoted lines, "Happy families are all alike," the novel follows the three daughters and their stumbles into courting and marriage with, among others, an exchange student from Bangladesh. The novel also follows their mother, whose heart is still in soviet Russia, and their perpetually unhappy father who struggles to make sense of it all.

Combining the trials of immigration with skewered romance and social commentary, The Cosmopolitans offers a new take on cross-cultural exchange.

"I watched 'Fiddler on the Roof' a lot in elementary school, and it really struck me how the characters thought everything would be okay, regardless of their current situation," said Kalman. "Growing up in Stamford myself, the movie also seemed to be a rather accurate depiction of how people saw us as immigrants."

In addition to the family's unsuccessful, yet comically endearing attempts at becoming fully integrated into American society, Kalman also references Stalin's anti-cosmopolitan campaign with the title of the book.

"I think that the characters wish were they cosmopolitans or citizens of the world, but it doesn't always work out that way," said Kalman. "I also thought it was funny that the name of this anti-semitic program is also the name a popular drink in the U.S."

Kalman said that the writing of "The Cosmopolitans" began during her time in Provincetown, where she was a writing fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.

"It was pretty ideal because they gave you an apartment and took care of everything for you," said Kalman. "All I had to do was write."

Kalman's short stories have been published in the Gettysburg Review, the Madison Review, the Antagonish Review, and multiple magazines. She also works with the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a non-profit organization.

Kalman will be giving a reading in Brooklyn on December 5th at 3:00 pm at Sunny's bar, located on 253 Conover Street.

Former Stamford resident discusses her novel, 'The Cosmopolitans,' at Ferguson, by Scott Gargan, The Stamford Advocate, December 10, 2010

For Nadia Kalman, the term "cosmopolitan" doesn't just bring to mind a sense of worldly sophistication.

"In the Soviet Union, cosmopolitan is a word for someone who had no true home or loyalty," said Kalman, who emigrated to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine, in 1984. "In America, people think of the ladies' magazine or the fancy drink."

Employed by Joseph Stalin during his violent anti-Zionist campaign, the euphemism was used to attack Jewish intellectuals who were accused of being unpatriotic.

It is this dual meaning that symbolizes the experience of the characters in Kalman's first book, "The Cosmopolitans" (Livingston Press). Loosely based on Kalman's own life, the novel follows the story of the Molochniks, a Russian Jewish family that flees its homeland and ends up in, of all places, Fairfield County.

Kalman, who grew up in the Belltown section of Stamford, will discuss her book at the main branch of the Ferguson Library on Sunday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. The appearance is a homecoming for Kalman, who worked as a page at the library when she was a Stamford High School student.

"The library makes me feel nostalgic because I spent so many hours there," said Kalman, 35, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Equal parts comedy and drama, the novel follows the Molochnik family as it adjusts to life in America and copes with the non-traditional marriages of its three young daughters. As Kalman explained, the book is about the "various ways in which you make yourself seem more cosmopolitan."

For the three daughters, that means espousing radical world views and picking husbands that rankle mom and dad. Katya becomes a punk rocker and marries a thief; Yana makes herself into a militant feminist and weds a Bangladeshi exchange student; Milla marries the son of a snooty Manhattan family. All of this irks the Molochnik parents, especially the disapproving father, Osip, who conjures Tevye in "The Fiddler on the Roof."

But as the characters tend toward cosmopolitanism, history tugs them in the opposite direction. The mother, Stalina, strives for pragmatism but is weighed down by her "Russian soul"; Katya involuntarily invokes the tirades of an erstwhile Soviet premier; and Osip is caught up in defending traditional Russian values, even though he admits, "we aren't in Russia."

"The Russian immigrants in the book try to escape from history by coming to the United States, but their lives are bound by the past," Kalman said.

While Kalman asserts the novel is fictional, her family shared many of the same experiences of its characters. Like the Molochniks, Kalman's family endured state-sponsored anti-Semitism -- arrests, detentions and murders in her grandparents' generation, and the denial of education and jobs in her parents' generation.

Upon arriving in the United States, Kalman's family had little money, even though her mother and father had been an architect and an engineer, respectively, in the Soviet Union. Kalman said Jewish families were only allowed to take limited funds -- just $60, in her parents' time -- when they left the country.

"It seemed nothing would ever change there," said Kalman, who emigrated with her parents, Elena and Mikhail Kalman and maternal grandparents, Lazar and Rachel Chalik. "(My parents) wanted me and their future children to have more choices and to not feel same fear they felt."

Kalman added it was the compassion and unity among Soviet Jewish expatriates -- reflected, partly, in the Molochnik's familial bond -- that allowed many people to thrive. It's a message she hopes to impart to all readers, immigrant or not.

"The title of the book is ironic because no one feels at home in the world," she said. "If we all realize that we're all newcomers, in a way, to the world, and there's always going to be something we don't understand about it or other people, we can be better prepared to accept each other."

The Ferguson Library is at 96 Broad St., Stamford. Sunday, Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. 203-964-1000,