Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Patriots

Title:  The Patriots
Author:  Sana Krasikov
Publication Information:  Spiegal and Grau. 2017. 560 pages.
ISBN:  0385524412 / 978-0385524414

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On a Sunday in August, a boy and a one-armed man appeared on the platform of the Saratov train station."

Favorite Quote:  "Only, the first rule of diplomacy, he reminded her, wasn't to say or do the right things, but to avoid saying and doing the wrong things."

Florence, a young American woman in the 1930s is disillusioned with the way life is going. She goes against her family and moves to Russia. This perspective makes this book unique for most books I have read depict immigration in the opposite direction into the United States. I look forward to seeing culture and politics depicted in a different way.

The two reasons behind Florence's move are a young man and a vision of being part of something bigger than herself. Neither one works out quite as she envisions, and she finds herself caught in a web, unable to escape. Yet, Florence stays, first by choice and then by force.

Her son ends up in an orphanage, but then, at a young age, he is forced to leave all he has known to begin again back in the United States with a parent he barely remembers. His own sense of "foreignness" follows him his entire life. His memories color his view on both the home he left and the land he now calls home. His memories also color his view of his mother.

His son, in turn, goes full circle back to Russia as a businessman and an entrepreneur. Despite his parents' misgivings, he seeks his own future as his grandmother did, and that future to him is in Russia.

This book tells two stories - Florence in the 1930s and Yulik aka Julian and his son Lenny in the 1980s. Florence's story is one of a choice her son never understood. "Why she came to Russia never struck me as odd. Why she stayed is a different question, and one I've often found myself wonder about." Florence's story is about the ramifications of that choice - the pressure, the questioning, the mistreatment, the imprisonment, and the labor camps. Yulik's story is about searching for the past of his parents and protecting the future of his son.

I love the historic premise of this book, the idea of exploring what happened to the foreigners in Russia in between the two World Wars. Unfortunately, I have a really difficult time getting through the book itself. First of all, the book drags in sections. The writing style at times is exaggerated and verbose. Two quotes illustrate my point: "...while I inhale the flatulence of car exhaust, the faint reek of wet varnish, the after-scent of spilled beer..." and "the skin of my arms and things and buttocks become a carapace of gooseflesh..." This story is dire enough to not need the embellishment of such descriptions.

Second, my interest in the book is in Florence's story; I find Yulik and Julian's modern day sections a distraction. I think Florence's story needs no additional filler but rather more depth into the characters. Third, the story is mostly narrative with many long passages. At times, I feel like a voyeur of history rather than a part of the story.

Finally, this is Florence's story, but ultimately, the book does not explore Florence's thoughts and emotions. Here is an idealist pursing a dream that shatters into a nightmare. Here is a young woman who loses everything and begins again. Now, that is a story worth exploring further.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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