In Silverstone's debut novel, two girls, known in their Ukrainian village for their singing and dancing act, escape to London at the turn of the 20th century.
Aleca Rabinovich and Sarah Brodsky are 16-year-old best friends who, in 1902, depend on the meager coins they collect from their street performance act. When the threat of pogroms begins looming over Ukraine, the two girls are sent by their families—who can only afford one ship ticket each—to London, where the girls must depend on hard work and talent to get by. Their physical beauty helps as well. Aleca and Sarah quickly find housing and work at a tea shop; in numerous erotic scenes, they also find romance, which in turn leads to rivalry and deceit, as the girls decide to venture into different professional spheres. Sarah enters the world of politics, and Aleca becomes "Alison Hayward," a star of the London stage. From the novel's first scene, in which a young boy races through London during a 1940 air raid, the novel's ambition is clear. The quick shift to Ukraine in 1902 confirms that this is to be a grand-scale epic, with major world events serving as the backdrop to generations of private lives across geographical and linguistic borders. The novel's expansive scope means plenty of energetic interludes, as in the moving episode of Aleca's return to Ukraine to search for her family. However, the wide scope also means sprawl. The plot veers toward chains of exposition marked by abrupt transitions and unanticipated time shifts. It is also rife with melodrama, some of which is entertaining, some cumbersome. The same can be said of the erotic scenes, which have an impressive, and often comical, array of euphemisms. But when the drama is good, it's also good fun, particularly in scenes at the theater, and the engaging protagonists are easy to root for.
Unwieldy but enjoyable despite the distracting structure.
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