Otherland: A Journey with My Daughter

Maria Tumarkin

Otherland: A Journey with My Daughter
Random House Australia
1 April 2010

Otherland: A Journey with My Daughter

Maria Tumarkin

Shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart prize for non fiction and the Community Relations Commission Award in NSW and The Age Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

I left too early, before tanks rolled into Moscow in 1991, and before Gorbachev was put under home arrest in a failed coup. I left before Russia and Ukraine became separate countries, before the KGB archives were opened, before the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune, before the word ‘Gulag’ appeared in textbooks. I left before Chechnya, before the mass renaming of cities and streets, before you could go into a shop and actually purchase the books of Brodsky, Pasternak and Nabokov. I left too early, I missed the whole point. I was not there when my generation was cornered by history.

Maria Tumarkin travels with her Australian-born teenage daughter, Billie, back to Russia and Ukraine to have her experience first-hand the seismic shifts of her family’s native country. For Maria the trip back is no simple stroll down memory lane. Splintered and scattered across the world, her generation has ended up inhabiting vastly different realities.

Along with exploring the political and cultural fallout of a century of turmoil, Maria wanted to bring together the worlds of her mother and daughter - the different continents, histories and experiences they encompassed. Before they set off, Maria wistfully imagined her and Billie’s hearts beating in unison as they travelled back to a past they could both understand, forging a nearly superhuman bond along the way. But, in Maria and Billie’s case, the past was not simply another country, but one that no longer existed.

Otherland is the story of a six-week trip traversing three generations, three lifetimes and three profoundly different but profoundly interconnected stories of mothers and daughters.


Maria Tumarkin is one of those writers whose books take the reader on a journey. Often, that journey is intellectual – a journey of discovery. She says all her books are driven by passion, because she felt she had to write them. There’s a burning question to answer.

In Traumascapes, she wanted to know the effect of sites of mass human suffering trauma sites on those who live, work and travel there – and to investigate the ghoulish attraction places like Auschwitz still hols. In Courage, her question was What constitutes courage? What is the meaning of ‘hero’? In exploring her own life and the experiences of others, she looked for and uncovered the real, deep-seated meaning of these overused, often overhyped concepts.

Otherland is the story of a physical, emotional and intellectual journey: her travels back to her roots, in Russia and the Ukraine, with her teenage daughter Billie. Tumarkin wanted her daughter to know where she came from, before she was too old to care, or to want to travel with her mother. She found that this was impossible – that the country she left behind had irrevocably changed, and the place she grew up in no longer existed. She also realised that you can’t make someone (even, maybe especially, your daughter) feel and experience what you hope they will.

As this feisty, sparky, fiercely clever mother-daughter team discover post-Glastnost Russia – and each other – they form a new, deeper understanding of both. Tumarkin is a consummate storyteller, and her sharp observations about the new Russia are intricately woven with her portraits of her family and their relationships.

A brilliant, absorbing book about mothers, daughters, place and belonging.

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