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First-novelist and former Forbes editor Cook plunges into the maelstrom of intrigue that characterized the Soviet Union’s early years, showing how a well-connected American family fared in doing business with the Bolsheviks. In the heady days following the victory of Lenin’s forces, the Faust clan already has a foot in the Soviet door by virtue of the fact that Pop, physician John Faust, was a leader and primary bankroller of the Communist movement in the US. But Pop is in jail, convicted of performing a botched abortion, so it falls to elder son Manny to make use of opportunities available in the new USSR. Starting in 1922, with a marginal platinum mining concession in the remote Urals, Manny—who’s enlisted the aid of reluctant younger brother Victor, a would-be actor and the narrator of the family saga—maneuvers, schmoozes, and cajoles his way to Moscow, where far richer ventures await. With Victor serving as the managerial genius behind the scenes, Manny’s Faust American Corp. corners the market in trade with the US, and the good life begins. Then Lenin dies. Faust American loses its franchise; Victor loses his beloved, the peasant Katya, to the secret police. A temporary turnaround is achieved by a bold foray into aspirin production, and Manny sets up Victor with a sleek, well-connected aristocrat. Pop gets out of jail and comes to join their enterprise, but with Stalin consolidating power, the writing is on the wall for all of them. The history and private dimensions of Soviet life are artfully arranged, but the whining, ever-ambivalent Victor is too dull and spineless a figure for so central a role.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57962-052-3
Page count: 246pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999