Fiddler on the Roof, Soviet Émigré-Style


Nadia Kalman’s The Cosmopolitans gives us a Tevye for the 21st century. The novel features a family of Soviet Jewish émigrés: Osip Molochnik (whose last name literally means “dairyman” in Russian), his wife Stalina (after the eponymous dictator), and, in true Fiddler form, 3 daughters on the brink of marriage.

Milla, the eldest, chooses a spoiled American Jew instead of the high-achieving Russian Jew her parents had picked for her. Yana, a radical feminist, weds a Muslim exchange student. Finally, Katya, a drug addict who involuntarily quotes Brezhnev (it’s a long story), falls for a no-goodnik with a mouth full of gold teeth who ends up flooding the Molochniks’ house when he attempts to drown himself in the bathtub.

One night, at a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, Stalina expresses an epiphany in comically broken English. Scoffing at Americans who still see Russian Jews like Tevye’s family, she rejects the idea that émigrés came to U.S. for riches. “We come for freedom,” she says. “Not pantyhose. I can get new pantyhose on black market.”

Americans aren’t the only target of this scorn: The Cosmopolitans is an equal-opportunity satire that needles everybody and everything in its course.

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