You can take a Russian out of Russia but good luck taking the smug, self-pitying delusions of grandeur out of her. Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry emigrated from Russia to the US in 1995 and writes in English but she learned nothing. And neither have her characters. They live like absolute swine – pedophilia, incest, incestuous pedophilia, violence, murdered babies buried in the woods – and none of it is ever their fault.
What’s at fault is always “history”, as if history weren’t what they made and keep making right at this moment. History happens to them and they are frozen in an eternal pout about the unfair treatment they get from “fate.”
The most recent events in the novel take place in 2008 but everything that made today’s war possible is already there: the pouting, the dream of imperial greatness, the stupid, obsessive lies about Ukraine and the Baltics. The word “empire” is repeated obsessively in the novel as an eternal dream that offers the only organizing principle to the characters.
Throughout it all, the narrator (and the author who echoes her in the afterword) remains decidedly proud of “the mysterious Russian soul” that creates this endless misery. The only hope one can find in this gruesome novel is that the 4 main characters – children of perestroika who are about a decade older than me – end up barren. They do not bring a new generation of smug, superior bastards into the world, and there’s some comfort in that.