A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University (1948–52):
Right on the heels of their 25th wedding anniversary and renewal ceremony, Lyuba and Ivan leave their farm for a small house near the University of Minnesota. In spite of their age, they’re determined to finally realize their long-deferred dream of getting a university education. Their three youngest children, Irina, Sonyechka, and Tamara, go along with them and enroll at new schools.
A large culture shock awaits, as Lyuba discovers prejudices against both women university students and older women going back to school in this immediate postwar era of rigid sex-based roles. Many people wonder why a woman who’s almost fifty, with three minor children left, is going to university at all instead of remaining just a wife and mother. For their part, Irina, Sonyechka, and Tamara also encounter culture shocks at their new school, which is mostly populated by all-American students who haven’t been raised by such nonconformist parents.
Lyuba and Ivan’s two younger sons, Igor and Ilya, are also at university. They’ve chosen to go to New York University to be near their extended family, and each quickly finds a love interest. Ilya falls in love with Milada Yeltsina-Baronova, one of Lena’s nieces, while Igor falls for Violetta Likachëva, Granyechka’s oldest surviving child. Igor is thrilled to find a woman who’s not only left-handed like he is, but also another art student.
In comparison to his brother, Igor has a much harder time winning the heart of the object of his affections. Violetta is still sleeping in her iron lung every single night, even though she doesn’t need it anymore, and hiding her one remaining caliper under long skirts. She also doesn’t tell Igor the real reason she was forced to become left-handed after her right side was injured, or why she never participates in dances. Even after they finally become a couple, Violetta still refuses to tell him she’s a polio survivor.
Will Violetta ever be able to trust Igor’s love enough to tell him the truth about herself, and will she ever feel safe enough to finally cut the strings to her iron lung once and for all?