The Goose Fritz

Sergei Lebe­dev An­ton­ina W. Bouis (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Nonfiction - MEA­GAN LOGSDON

New Ves­sel Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $17.95 (322pp) 978-1-939931-64-1

Among the strands that shape a per­son’s iden­tity, fam­ily may be one of the most in­flu­en­tial. Sergei Lebe­dev delves into one such fam­ily in The Goose Fritz, an im­pres­sive tan­gle of branches in a sin­gle ances­tral tree.

Kir­ill has al­ways been Rus­sian. But when Grand­mother Lina brings him along on a visit to the Ger­man Ceme­tery in Moscow, this na­tional iden­tity is split into two. She re­veals the graves mark­ing his fore­bear­ers—graves carved with the name Sch­w­erdt. Rus­sian sym­pa­thies to­ward Ger­mans were un­der­stand­ably nonex­is­tent for much of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, so Kir­ill’s grand­mother took great pains to con­ceal their Ger­man roots as much as pos­si­ble. But as her life draws to a close, she shares the se­cret with Kir­ill, her aca­demic grand­son, in the hopes that he will piece the great breadth of their fam­ily his­tory— their true his­tory—to­gether.

The novel is ex­po­si­tional but crafted in po­etic prose. In­di­vid­ual sto­ries of fam­ily mem­bers are com­pelling but grow even more fas­ci­nat­ing as the nar­ra­tive makes con­nec­tions lead­ing to the present-day Kir­ill. The trail be­gins at Balthasar Sch­w­erdt, a tra­di­tional Ger­man doc­tor turned home­opath who trav­els to Rus­sia in the early 1800s afire with “his dream of con­vert­ing na­tions to the home­o­pathic faith.” He falls un­der the sway of the mad Prince Ury­atin­sky and thus so­lid­i­fies this branch of the Sch­w­erdts in Rus­sia.

The depth of his­tor­i­cal re­search is ev­i­dent ev­ery­where. Ger­man im­mi­grants’ strug­gles to es­tab­lish them­selves in Rus­sia de­spite re­stric­tive laws are a chill­ing re­minder of how wide­spread ha­tred is dam­ag­ing to a na­tion’s—any na­tion’s—so­cial fab­ric.

An evoca­tive ex­cur­sion across more than a cen­tury, The Goose Fritz pro­vokes con­sid­er­a­tion of na­tional iden­tity and the role it plays in sus­tain­ing an in­di­vid­ual.

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