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My Grandmother Tongue

My Grandmother Tongue

Translation by Deborah Ostrovsky

A few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, my grandmother arrived at Mirabel Airport carrying, in her suitcases, history textbooks, Russian grammar manuals and the vestiges of her former life. She’d just retired from being a schoolteacher, I’d just reached school age, and she was determined to give me an education. Two years earlier, my parents, my older sister and I had emigrated to Montreal from Saint-Petersburg—which had only recently been known as Leningrad—and now it was my grandparents’ turn to emigrate. I was behind in the Russian curriculum, and babulya was eager to make up for lost time. Every weekend, I sat beside her at a table lit by a green banker’s lamp, like the ones you find in old libraries, reciting Russian declensions, the poems of Pushkin or Lermontov, and the dates of the Christianization of Kievan Rus’. This is how ...

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