Rus­sia and re­pres­sion

David Her­man con­sid­ers ‘a new Dr Zhivago’. Amanda Hop­kin­son on a cul­tural col­lec­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Granta, £12.99 Re­viewed by David Her­man By Sana Krasikov

SANA KRASIKOV is part of a re­mark­able group of young Jewish writ­ers born in the for­mer Soviet Union in the 1970s, most of whom came to the United States as chil­dren. Oth­ers in­clude Keith Gessen (All The Sad Young Lit­er­ary Men), Boris Fish­man (A Re­place­ment Life), Gary Shteyn­gart (Ab­sur­dis­tan) and David Bez­mozgis (The Be­tray­ers). To­gether, they have taken the Amer­i­can lit­er­ary scene by storm.

Krasikov’s first book, One More Year, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, ap­peared to huge ac­claim in 2008. It was awarded the Jewish Book Coun­cil’s $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Lit­er­a­ture in 2009. Now, she has pub­lished her first novel, The Pa­tri­ots, a his­tor­i­cal tale mov­ing be­tween eight decades, three gen­er­a­tions and two con­ti­nents of up­heaval in a com­pelling piece of story-telling.

A 64-year-old man sits alone in his ho­tel room read­ing a huge pile of pa­pers. They take him back to his early child­hood as he re­mem­bers stand­ing in his fam­ily apart­ment watch­ing what will be the de­ter­min­ing mo­ment of his life, the ar­rest of his mother by the Soviet se­cret po­lice.

The Pa­tri­ots tells the story of that man as a boy, with his par­ents mov­ing be­tween 1930s Amer­ica, the Soviet Union in the dark­est days of Stal­in­ism and Putin’s Rus­sia to­day. Florence Fein, a young, feisty woman from Brook­lyn is dis­il­lu­sioned with Amer­ica dur­ing the De­pres­sion. She leaves her close-knit Jewish fam­ily and moves to Soviet Rus­sia,

full of youth­ful ide­al­ism, and what fol­lows is a story of tragic dis­il­lu­sion.

This gives noth­ing away be­cause in the very first pages of Krasikov’s huge novel we meet her and her son as she re­turns from seven years in the Gu­lag. This is a brave move by Krasikov be­cause it means that for over four hun­dred pages we al­ready know what has hap- pened to Florence. But it is a trib­ute to the young au­thor that the novel is full of sus­pense and jaw-drop­ping twists and turns, wor­thy of John Le Carré.

Krasikov has a real gift for sto­ry­telling. She com­bines love af­fairs with bril­liant evo­ca­tions of Stal­in­ism, from de­tailed ac­counts of Soviet state or­phan­ages to ex­am­ples of Rus­sian an­ti­semitism and the bru­tal­ity of all­night in­ter­ro­ga­tions by the se­cret po­lice. She has a real eye for de­tail, whether it’s the kind of food served in an or­phan­age or ads in post-war, Amer­i­can glossy mag­a­zines.

Through th­ese de­tails and su­perb his­tor­i­cal re­search, Krasikov cre­ates a world that feels com­pletely au­then­tic, whether she’s de­scrib­ing the des­per­ate squalor of apart­ments in 1930s Moscow or young Amer­i­can busi­ness­men on ex­pense ac­counts get­ting drunk on vodka 70 years later.

The best scenes are about be­trayal, how peo­ple are driven to be­tray their clos­est friends, be it un­der Stalin or Putin. Best of all, Krasikov moves be­tween dif­fer­ent times and places, keep­ing the reader guess­ing all the time. It is a com­pelling and some­times des­per­ately mov­ing read.

Some have called The Pa­tri­ots, “a Dr Zhivago for our times”. Such a com­par­i­son raises the bar. At the very least, this is an as­ton­ish­ing first novel by a very gifted young writer.

An in­ter­view with Sana Krasikov will ap­pear in next week’s JC. She will be speak­ing at Jewish Book Week with Michael Gold­farb and Boris Fish­man on March 5. David Her­man is the JC’s chief fic­tion re­viewer

It is full of sus­pense and jaw drop­ping twists and turns’

Sana Krasikov: grand his­tor­i­cal range in an as­ton­ish­ing de­but novel

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