Sana 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”
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.