A debut autobiographical novel chronicles a woman’s perilous escape from Communist Russia with her son.
Victoria “Vica” Guidar was born in Leningrad and was blessed with a happy home life and a comfortable existence. While life behind the Iron Curtain was economically punishing for some, Vica’s family largely eluded the worst of the hardships. After studying graphic design for five years at an art academy in the Estonian Republic, she returns to Leningrad and falls in love with Gennady “Genka” Rosenberg, a dashingly handsome man who works in the film industry. After a torrid romance, they marry, and Vica has a son, Arthur. But Genka is a disinterested father and husband as well as an incompetent provider, buried under debt. Vica divorces him and eventually meets Dima, an engineer, and while there is no romantic electricity between them, he opens her eyes to the possibility of immigrating to another country and starting a new life. She worries that there is no future for her and her son in Russia and becomes disenchanted by the failure of Communism to deliver on its lofty promises. In addition, she is repulsed by the brutal discrimination of Jews. Vica hatches a complex plan to escape to Israel that involves remarrying Genka—as a Jew, he is given more freedom to leave the country than most. The risks, though, are great, especially since her family angrily opposes her designs—her brother even confiscates her passport to thwart them. Evangelista explains in a prefatory note that this is not a memoir, though it is inspired by her own life. The stirring plot is immersive, and the author vividly depicts the climate of fear and Orwellian propaganda perpetrated by a regime anxious to maintain its grip on the levers of power. The author delivers incisive historical details throughout the work. But the prose is wooden and even cliché-ridden—Vica describes herself as “a bird that was born to fly and doesn’t have the air to breathe and space to spread my wings.” Furthermore, the book includes old photographs of the author and her family, which confusedly blur the already fuzzy line between factual remembrance and creative invention.
A thrilling and historically astute drama.