Dasha Tolstikova, A Year Without Mom
Published 2015 by Groundwood Books, 176p
I first became familiar with Dasha Tolstikova’s style when reading The Jacket for my daughter; I have immediately appreciated her talent and the next day I bought A Year Without Mom. There is so much gift behind all illustrations, every page is extremely meaningful and emotional as well.
The novel is mainly autobiographical describing a year of Dasha’s life in a communist Russia at the beginning of the ‘90s. Specific references are made to the 1991 Soviet coup d’état when president Gorbachev was taken prisoner in an attempt of destabilization.
Dasha was twelve when her mother decided to leave her with the grandparents for a year while she went to America for a master’s program in advertising.
As part of a generation that was raised under communist rules I perfectly understood the political context Dasha Tolstikova used to place her characters. This is a formative novel but above personal experiences it is the historical circumstances that dictated decisions. Although it is more than 25 years from the Revolution in Romania the phenomenon of parents leaving the country seeking opportunities and leaving children behind is still actual. It is fantastic strength that these children need to have to overcome loss and turmoil.
Her parents divorced and both in America, Dasha needed to find her own direction. She experienced loneliness, emotions of first love, challenges of friendship, school difficulties, anger because of her parents absence.
I don’t care about anything anymore. It’s cold and dark out. I am not cool. Petya will never like me. School is boring. Everything sucks.
For Dasha, this year was fundamental in the process of going from childhood to adolescence, a significant year on her formation. Brave, stubborn and dedicated to her preoccupations she would finally manage to find equilibrium. After a series of conflicts and hesitations, longing to be with her mother, Dasha would move to America.
A Year Without Mom is definitely an engaging story, a remarkable graphic novel of an extremely talented artist.