Around noon on Monday, March 2, I met my wonderful friends Mike and Colleen DeGregory at Mirror–their ultra-cool restaurant in the 12South neighborhood of Nashville. Mom and Mike headed to the Russian market for deli meat and cheese while Colleen and I ironed miles of red felt and arranged the dining room for a cocktail-style party. While Colleen made magic in the front of the house, Michael produced a magnificent Russian feast: mounds of Russian-style “Olivier” salad, marinated “Korean” carrots, buttery potato pancakes, and buckwheat blini (small pancakes) batter–an insane recipe which required around 237 distinct steps and lengthy proofing periods. Mom and I ran backup–Mom operating the dishwashing machine, and me peeling eggs and flipping potato pancakes. The four of us quickly tore through Michaels’s secret stash of red caviar from the Russian market. (Potato pancakes topped with dill sour cream and salmon caviar will change your life.)
By 5pm, the room was all festive Soviet dignity, if you can imagine that. Bold red banners framed the book cover art and hung from the ceiling, and centerpieces of red felt, Soviet military hats, lemons, and pine needles decorated every table. The Red Army Band’s earnest wartime ballads issued from the sound system.
After rushing home to shower and change into the lovely dress my co-translator Margarita sent me last year from Moscow, I returned to Mirror around 15 minutes before launch time–to find that several people had already arrived early. Was this the moment I stopped worrying that nobody was going to show up? I’m not sure, because the whirlwind quickly descended.
Kim and Carrie
After signing the first copy for my dear friend Carrie, I turned to esteemed poet Bill Brown, my high school English teacher, and my accomplished author friend Robert Benson for help. “What,” I asked them, “is the protocol for signing a book of which I’m not technically the author?”
“I’ve seen people sign newly edited editions of the Bible that they worked on,” said Robert. “If somebody can sign the Bible, I’m thinking you can sign this.”
So I quit worrying and started having a good time.
After an hour, I finally looked up from my little signing table and took in my surroundings: a room full of friends enjoying the wonderful party Mike and Colleen had made, standing in line to buy books from my mom, and taking turns sitting down to chat with me. Mike fried blini to order, dressed in a Russian military uniform and Soviet Air Force cap, while Colleen mixed the most deliciously evil cocktails, with names like “Jewel of the Tsar.”
Other friends pitched in to help: Elizabeth Brock drove in from Memphis, repre-sent-ing in a big furry hat; my husband Hal and Michael Fenswick ran plates and backed up Mike in the kitchen; and Dad worked the room with supreme dexterity, looking dapper in his black jacket and t-shirt, and introducing me with the perfect mix of humor, grace, and a true showman’s sense of drama.
Mom and Dad, Hal and I, Mike, Colleen, Elizabeth, and everyone else who counts deemed the event a roaring success. Folks said they never realized Russian food was so delicious, and the Russians present declared Mike’s work to be a masterful rendition of the real thing. And did I mention? We sold out of books–75 to be exact.
Not that that 75 books exactly shoots RSBD onto the NYTimes bestseller list; but that’s OK. That’s not what it’s about. To me, it’s about sharing Anna Yegorova’s life story with a few people at a time, spreading the word about this extraordinary woman’s accomplishments and sacrifices, and hopefully passing on a little bit of that enjoyment and fascination I felt as I worked on this thrilling project.
And if we can throw in an excuse to eat blini and caviar and sip shimmering red vodka cocktails with wonderful friends–that’s icing.
To read the first review of the book, please see:
Alina’s post on Armchair General.com
A short video of the event, from Margie Maddux Newman’s “Vidalicious” blog: