Uncertain Weights and Measures
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.”