An American doctor finds her roots, and more, in Siberia.
Saldana Tarasova, a dancer in a Russian company visiting the U.S. on a cultural exchange, presents herself in surgeon Natalie March's Washington, D.C., waiting room with an extraordinary claim: She and Natalie are cousins. Natalie believes her mother, Vera, to be the only surviving child of Katarina Melnikova, who was sent to the gulag in 1949 and is presumed dead. But Saldana reveals that Vera managed to escape into the Siberian wilderness and raise a second daughter, Lena, who is the mother of Saldana and her older brother, Mikhail. Once all the connections are established, Saldana puts Natalie in a bind by asking for her help in defecting. Natalie is stuffily reluctant, and Saldana returns to New York City, where her company is dancing. The next day Saldana is dead, killed in her hotel room. There follow some confusing interviews by various enforcement agencies; eventually, at the urging of her mother, who is not well enough to travel, Natalie decides to travel to Siberia to meet her grandmother, her aunt, and her other cousin, beginning a journey to self-discovery. Natalie's aunt Lena has left Yakutsk, and her cousin Mikhail has disappeared. Natalie is recruited by the CIA to find out what she can about Mikhail and his associates, and though she fails to find him, sure enough his associates are up to no good. Having done the CIA's bidding, Natalie is trundled off to the airport to head home, but in a flash of independence she decides to try to locate her family on her own. Much of what ensues strains credulity, though some of her adventures are in themselves quite rewarding and some of the descriptions of Siberia, excellently written. Natalie grows, takes chances, even learns to use bad language, but the accumulated disasters and escapes cost others dearly, and Natalie's burgeoning self-awareness seems cheap.
Some thrills, some chills, but tepid overall.