Un­cer­tain Weights and Mea­sures

The Walrus - - BOOKS - By Jo­ce­lyn Parr — Samia Mad­war

in 1921, just af­ter the Rus­sian civil war, Ta­tiana meets Sasha at an un­der­ground book­store in Moscow. Mo­ments later, a bomb det­o­nates nearby, and the two run to safety. They see them­selves as op­po­sites — he’s an artist, she’s a sci­en­tist — but soon fall in love.

The cou­ple at the heart of Jo­ce­lyn Parr’s Un­cer­tain Weights and Mea­sures pro­vide in­sight into two dif­fer­ent per­cep­tions of rev­o­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia. Ta­tiana, an ar­dent Marx­ist, gets a job work­ing for her idol, the neu­rol­o­gist Vladimir Bekhterev, and cu­rates an ex­hibit of pre­served brains — one of which is Lenin’s. Sasha works at a stu­dio mak­ing pro­pa­ganda posters. He grows in­creas­ingly rest­less and re­al­izes there is no place for him in a state that doesn’t value art for art’s sake. Then Bekhterev dies sud­denly, and as Ta­tiana in­ves­ti­gates the sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances of his pass­ing, her faith in the rev­o­lu­tion wa­vers. But the true test of her loy­alty comes when Sasha de­cides to leave Moscow and asks her to join him. Ta­tiana is left ques­tion­ing her long-held be­liefs — on science, on pol­i­tics, and on love.

While Parr’s con­cisely lyri­cal book doesn’t al­ways con­vince as a his­tor­i­cal novel — Ta­tiana’s in­ner di­a­logue sounds like that of a mil­len­nial — it could very well be read as a cau­tion­ary al­le­gory of our own “brave and vi­sion­ary time.”

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