In a Russian city of the near future, twin brothers struggle with tradition, technology and the growing distance between them in this impressive debut novel.
As boys, Yarik and Dima learn fishing from their father. After he drowns and their mother has a breakdown, they spend time on their uncle’s farm. Shared pain and rustic pleasures remain with the twins as the story jumps about 20 years and they work on building a huge greenhouse that girds their once-depressed industrial city of Petroplavilsk. It’s a project of a consortium in the new capitalist Russia that has also filled the sky with space mirrors to reflect the sun when it sets and provide perpetual daylight for crops grown under the “mammoth solarium.” Weil (The New Valley, 2009) has fairy-tale elements and a Pushkin romance weaving through a moderately futuristic setting. The different narrative types suit a conflict that pits high-pressure urban toil and avid consumerism against a “Past Life” of agrarian labor, customs and leisure. The prose also shifts markedly from harshly realistic to lyrical and sometimes poetic, as in this description of a winter’s fishing hole: “[a] lapping blackness in the lamplit ice.” The brothers’ gradual estrangement embodies the larger conflicts. Dima the dreamer, “listening to a woods whispering at the edge of a hayfield,” retreats from work, hoping to recover the uncle’s lost farm and becoming briefly a folk hero as he recites publicly from the Pushkin epic and appears in a video made by a group of anarchists who harvest psilocybin mushrooms. Yarik, with a family and ambition, gains promotions as he’s favored by the billionaire leading the consortium, eventually turning into an icon himself of the good life. The ending errs wisely on the side of realism, addressing the key conflicts without closing all the gaps or healing all the wounds.
As broad as its themes are—touching on political, philosophical and historical divisions—Weil’s first novel is rooted in family and fine storytelling; it's an engaging, highly satisfying tale blessed by sensitivity and a gifted imagination.