A coming-of-age novel set in Moscow, Erades’ debut plays with tropes of student life, literary devotion, and travel.
Oh, to be a young student in love in Moscow, where the girls are angelic and the air smells of…what’s that? Gun powder? Petrol? Vomit? The Moscow that Martin has come looking for doesn’t quite exist anymore. A lover of literature—though also a young man who fakes his way through a lot of reading—he romanticizes an old-world Russian glamour, but in his case, he mostly just falls from bar to bar, bounces from romance to romance. Erades smartly breaks his novel into sections that begin with a description of a famous woman from Russian literature, and these literary women echo the “real” women Martin meets—and is largely unable to understand as human beings, not just figures ripped from pages. Yes, Martin may be playing the role of intellectual, but often these relationships devolve into…well, how would Martin put it? “Fuck you.” (Would Chekhov have said the same?) Martin has a lot of growing up to do, but Erades is always mature, even when his protagonist isn’t, which makes the novel feel different from Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise or other coming-of-age stories written while the authors themselves were coming of age. By setting this book in Russia, Erades blunts some of his character’s narcissism: there’s always the shadow of history to contend with. “I thought how different my Moscow was from Chekhov’s Moscow,” Martin muses, going on to describe the “enormous amalgam of buildings and squares and wide avenues.” The novel feels a bit like such an amalgam too, and the worst you could say about it is that it’s untidy, too unruly, too desultory. But then again, Erades’ structure mimics the movement of Martin through the city, through his life—always yearning yet not always heading in the right direction.
An appealingly chaotic—if familiar—look at the inner life of a young “intellectual.”