The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

wp-1491080294065.jpgSana Krasikov’s debut novel, The Patriots, is a compelling account of one woman’s experience in Soviet Russia under Stalin’s regime.

Florence Fein is a young, idealistic woman growing up in 1930s Brooklyn, but the capitalist ‘American Dream’ does not inspire her. With all the fervency of her youthful convictions, Florence believes that America has nothing to offer her. Instead, she emigrates to Russia to pursue her utopian ideals, and also “one particular dark-eyed Soviet man”.

As she sets sail from New York, waving her family goodbye, she is blithely unaware of the magnitude of the events that will follow her decision to emigrate. Reading The Patriots, I was impressed by her grit and tenacity, leaving her family and her native New York behind to journey thousands of miles to an industrial city, Magnitogorsk, in the Ural mountains of Russia. For a moment, as a reader, I became swept up in Florence’s girlish enthusiasm. But the knowledge of things to come soon overshadows any naive optimism you have at the beginning.

“Florence could feel a constriction in her chest…She had been foolish enough to hope that whatever she was walking into would affect no one but herself. Now the truth was catching up with her at the speed of her galloping heartbeat…Now they had summoned her. And they knew everything”


Image: Triumfalnaya Square, Moscow (1934)

Decades later, her son Julian travels to Moscow to find out the truth about his mother when her KGB file is released. For years, he struggled to understand Florence and her refusal to criticize the political regime that destroyed their family. Now, he hopes, the truth will come to light.

The book jumps between years and decades, beginning in 1934 as Florence starts her voyage, then rewinding to 1932, 1934 to 2008, 1940 to 1948… Sometimes I find that changes in chronology disrupt the flow of a narrative, but that isn’t the case with The Patriots. Once Krasikov has set up the back story for each character, the links between the plot lines become clear.

Krasikov’s characters are so vivid that you almost think you are watching events unfold on a movie screen, as one of the reviews praises on the back cover. Although the characters are fictional, the book is based on true events and Florence’s story could be viewed as a representative for one of the many Americans who were trapped in Russia during the Stalinist era, their passports confiscated and unable to leave the country.

The Patriots is a novel which encompasses many themes — identity, family, love, loyalty, self-deception and the dangers of political ideology. It’s a beautifully written epic novel, and it will certainly be one of my stand-out reads of the year.

The Patriots (2017) is published by Granta Books. I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Books I Read in March

It’s the start of another month and time for another literary round-up of the books I’ve read recently. In March, I read one non-fiction title and three novels. Let’s start with the non-fiction book: a biography of Jane Austen by historian Lucy Worsley.

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. At just forty-one, she died tragically young. The cause of her death is unknown, but some scholars have suggested Addison’s or Hodgkin’s disease. However, some new research recently came to light — it’s possible that Jane was unintentionally poisoned by arsenic, a popular ingredient in Georgian medicine.

Worsley’s book, Jane Austen at Home, is one of the publications timed to commemorate her death. I’m an Austen fan and I’ve read several well-researched biographies (Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin is one of the best), so I was already familiar with the facts of Austen’s life. However, Worsley has taken these facts, along with historical context, letters and info from other sources, and woven them into a highly enjoyable book. Continue reading

The Longest Night – a novel by Andria Williams

The Longest Night coverBased on the only fatal nuclear accident to happen in the United States, The Longest Night is an engrossing novel set in the late 1950s in a remote military town in Idaho. It follows a young couple, Paul and Natalie (Nat for short), as they adjust to their new life in the town. Paul is part of the Army Specialist team overseeing the CR-1, one of the first nuclear reactors in the USA. At first, their lives are full of promise. They’re chasing the American Dream and life is sweet.

But Nat struggles with the loneliness of being in the house all day, every day, in a small town miles from anywhere. She looks after their two daughters, Sam and Liddie, and she appreciates that she is fortunate to have the “exhausting luxury” of staying at home with them. But she is a free-spirited character — after growing up in California with an outdoorsy lifestyle which matches her summery nature, it’s hard for her to fit into the expectations of small-town Idaho. She isn’t readily accepted among the coiffured army wives on the base and she finds it hard to relate to them, with their outwardly perfect lives and spotless houses. Continue reading

Between the Pages: Thomas Hardy’s Writing

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


hardysignature

So, I know I said that these posts will be published every Tuesday… And it hasn’t escaped my notice that today is Wednesday. I am a punctual person when deadlines are important, but when deadlines are self-imposed and there’s no great urgency, I think it’s okay to cut ourselves some slack. 🙂

When you think of Thomas Hardy’s writing and storylines, it wouldn’t be surprising if you think of gloom: death, depression, dark and rainy English countryside filled with mud (it’s not all pretty and picturesque, you know). When I researched material for this post, I was amused to find this Guardian infographic: Which Thomas Hardy novel is the bleakest? The graphic lists a key of all the bleak events that occur in each of Hardy’s novels — Jude the Obscure scores the most (no surprises there!), closely followed by Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Continue reading

Between the Pages: Thomas Hardy’s Life (part II)

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


There’s a slight change of schedule this week — today, we’re following up Hardy’s personal life before we move on to discussing his era. My post about Hardy’s era is in progress — I’ll publish that in a few days and then the series will be back on track! 🙂

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 - 1915. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 – 1915.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of my last post about Thomas Hardy’s life, I mentioned that he had a difficult personal life. He married his first wife, Emma, in 1874 and for a few years, they were quite happy. But they began to have disagreements and it led to a growing distance between them, most likely prompted by a combination of factors including their childless marriage and Hardy’s growing success.

Continue reading

Between the Pages: Thomas Hardy’s Life

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


Thomas Hardy was born in June 1840, only a few years after the Victorian era began, in the small hamlet of Upper Bockhampton (known today as Higher Bockhampton) in the English county of Dorset.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 - 1915. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Hardy, circa 1910 – 1915.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re unfamiliar with English geography, Dorset is situated in South West England, on the coast of the English Channel. It is renowned as being a beautiful county, with a variety of landscapes: rolling chalk downs, valleys, cliffs and coastline, and it provides the backdrop to Hardy’s writing.

Hardy's cottage, where he was born and wrote several of his novels. Image copyright: Chris Shaw. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. Image source: Geograph.

Hardy’s cottage, where he was born and where he wrote two of his novels.
Image copyright: Chris Shaw. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence. Image source: Geograph.

Continue reading

Between the Pages — Jane Austen’s Writing

TITLE HER

Between the Pages is a new, weekly blog series which explores the life, times and creative works of well-known authors. I plan to run the blog series until the end of 2015, focusing on one author per month. New posts every Tuesday, plus occasional bonus posts.

The first post in the series is a brief biography of the author, the second looks at the historical period of the author, and the third post discusses their creative works. Finally, the last post includes selected quotations and short excerpts by the author.


During her lifetime, Jane Austen wrote six full-length novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. 

She started writing when she was in her early teens and her juvenilia consists of short stories, poems and comic plays. Her early writing is quite different to her novels; it is full of extravagant characters and slapstick events. Between 1793 – 1795, Jane wrote Lady Susan, a novel told in letters about a seductive widow who hunts for husbands for herself and her daughter.

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The last book I read

Daily Prompt: Bookworm

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter

A page from The Engagements

A page from The Engagements

The last book I read was The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan. The Engagements, as you have probably already guessed, is a novel which focuses on marriage. Five separate characters – Frances, Evelyn, Delphine, Kate and James – tell the story of relationships and marriages in several different decades of the twenty and twenty-first centuries. Many authors, especially those who particularly appeal to a female audience, take a similar approach in terms of multiple characters with separate storylines and sometimes when I read novels in that style, I find that the characters start to merge and become rather ‘samey’. However, The Engagements is a highly engrossing read and J. Courtney Sullivan weaves a fascinating subject into the fabric of her novel: the way in which diamonds have become an essential ingredient in the western world’s view of an ideal engagement and marriage.

One of the characters in the novel, Frances Gerety, is based on the real-life Frances Gerety who, working as young copywriter for De Beers in the late 1940s, coined the world-famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”. During the time of the Great Depression, diamonds weren’t popular. In fact, as J. Courtney Sullivan writes in this New York Times article, How Americans Learned to Love Diamonds, most Americans viewed diamonds as an extravagance which only the richest people could afford. It is quite astonishing to realize the enormous power that marketing has over us and the fact that it was advertising which entrenched the diamond engagement ring in our society. The analysis of this enthralling topic, along with engaging (no pun intended!) characters, has resulted in this readable and very absorbing novel.

Book review: Into the Beautiful North

There are almost no men in the small Mexican town of Tres Camerones. They have all left to pursue dreams of wealth and a better life in the U.S.: the “beautiful north” of the title. But when the bandidos move into town, the women of Tres Camerones realize something must be done and so nineteen year old waitress Nayeli, inspired by a screening of The Magnificent Seven, sets off with three friends on a journey to el norte to bring seven Mexican men back to Tres Camerones. Interwoven with this tale is Nayeli’s personal story: her father was one of the men who left his family in order to find work in ‘Los Yunaites’ and she is determined to find him, basing her search on a treasured post-card he sent her from Kankakee, Illinois.

Luis Alberto Urrea brings Tres Camerones to life with his prose: the Mexican sun, the dust swirling from the wind and the colorful food. Into the Beautiful North is a skilfully written novel, blending social issues such as immigration and undocumented migrant workers with a mix of vibrant characters, humor and suspense. Whatever you think about illegal immigration, the novel gives a different and much more humanizing perspective than the harsh views we often hear. It is a thought-provoking, moving novel which is well worth your time.

Into the Beautiful North at www.luisurrea.com

Book review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles front cover — no copyright infringement intended. All rights remain with their respective owners

Image source: The Age of Miracles at Amazon.com

I was lucky to get an advanced review copy of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and I just finished reading it. It is a striking, original début novel and it is definitely one to watch out for when it arrives in book stores next month on June 26.

I’ll give you a brief summary of the plot before I share my thoughts on this novel. The Age of Miracles is set in California….wonderful, sunny Southern California, in a quiet everyday neighborhood. But then the Slowing begins. The earth begins slowing down, meaning that the days and nights grow longer and longer until our human concept of 24 hours in a day no longer has any relevance. Julia, the protagonist, is eleven years old when this takes place but the story is narrated by Julia when she is older and looking back on the events of “the slowing”. The author, Karen Thompson Walker, thoughtfully describes the changes which take place when “the slowing” happens: changes in gravity and Circadian rhythms, the death of birds and crops. Catastrophes are woven with the story of a young girl beginning adolescence, creating a multilayered story of people going about their daily lives in a setting which feels very unreal.

This is a novel which is all about time and its power over us. Even though the government attempts to enforce the 24 hour clock, nature is ever-powerful. As this article from the website of the British newspaper, The Guardian points out, The Age of Miracles is “eerily prescient” because something like this could actually happen. When the massive earthquake struck Japan last year, it moved our planet on its axis, causing our day to shorten “by a fraction of a second”. The Age of Miracles has a quietly apocalyptic feel to it: there are no dramatic explosions, no zombies parading the streets, no extraterrestrial beings conquering the Earth. And it is this fact that makes it so believable; it’s not your typical sci-fi novel.

However, although the novel is well-written and the concept is engaging, I am disappointed by what I think is a weak ending. The book leads the reader on to wonder what will happen but then, all of a sudden, you arrive at an anti-climactic and forgettable ending. The ending is my main issue with the novel. I tend to avoid giving stars or points in my reviews but if I had to rate this on a scale of 1 – 10 I would probably give it a 5 or a 6: I enjoyed reading it and it gripped me but the ending was unsatisfying. Don’t let that dissuade you from reading it though; despite the fact that my enjoyment was somewhat negated by the ending, The Age of Miracles is a thought-provoking read and Karen Thompson Walker is a talent to watch out for. For more info and to read an extract from the book, visit the website at theageofmiraclesbook.com.