A somewhat overwrought but nonetheless intriguing ``documentary novel'' of Soviet prostitution, a bestseller in Russia. According to Soviet law, prostitution doesn't exist and therefore it isn't a crime, but prostitutes—from the desperate disease-riddled women who hang around the railway stations to the beautiful women, dressed in the latest European fashions, who work the big hotels where foreign tourists stay—are familiar parts of Soviet life. What is not so well-known—and what made this novel so sensational for the Russians—is that these ``intergirls'' are paid in hard currency, or valuta, that only foreigners are allowed. It is this valuta that buys their expensive clothes, makeup, and cars, but it also makes them vulnerable to blackmail and imprisonment: currency violation is a crime. Here, heroine Tanya works the hotels between shifts at a hospital. Like many middle-class women, she has turned to prostitution to supplement her meager income. A devoted daughter, she lives with her mother, who is unaware of her prostitution. When a Swedish businessman proposes marriage, Tanya accepts and, after a number of bureaucratic hitches, makes it to Sweden. Sweden may be consumer heaven, but it lacks the warmth of the homeland, and Tanya, intensely homesick, wants to visit her mother—even though the Russian police threaten to arrest her because of her past currency dealings. A tragic end for Tanya and mother is inevitable. Fascinating detail and description from inside Russia, but the story itself, despite well-drawn characters, is merely a maudlin vehicle for these undeniably sensational revelations.
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