The sympathetic and flawed lead character puts a haunting human face on contemporary Russia, often demonized by the media.

NIKOLAI DELOV

A successful businessman’s involvement with a woman determined to rescue sex trafficking victims exposes the underbelly of the New Russia in this noir-esque character study.

Nikolai Delov, pushing age 50, co-owns with his brother “the largest family-owned trucking company in the Russian Federation,” a company his truck driver father founded. Delov is a public success. He proudly displays a photo of himself receiving an entrepreneurial award from President Boris Yeltsin (“A perfect example of what a renewed Russia is all about”). His private life, though, is in more of a shambles. Divorced, he suffers strained relations with his son, Valentin, a talented artist with no interest in joining the family business, who is trying to open his own gallery. One morning, Delov is visited by Inessa Zorina, who runs a foundation that provides “ ‘safe environments’ for girls escaping the sex trade.” In their initial meeting, she is simply seeking a financial donation to establish housing for the young women, but things get interesting when she prevails upon him to help her rescue a young woman from her pimp. The entrepreneur’s growing relationship with Zorina puts him at further odds with powerful business rival Vladimir Konstantinov, the scion of a Yeltsin-era oligarch. Delov uses this competitor as a benchmark to measure his own success (“An unfair standard…since Vladimir Konstantinov was anything but a truck driver’s son”). Is Konstantinov jealous of Delov and Zorina’s affair? Is it just a coincidence that Valentin is arrested and charged with being a Banksey-like covert graffiti-tagger? In a striking plot development, Delov himself comes under investigation when it appears a branch of his company is involved in the trafficking of young women. Dante (The Tiger’s Wedding, 2012) has crafted an engrossing novel with an evocative and authentic sense of place and an engaging protagonist facing myriad challenges (“If something dire happened to him, what might become of the company?”). In noir tradition, Delov finds his world upended by dark forces of which he is aware but had always been able to navigate. “Corruption is a terrible thing,” he notes at one point, “until it works in your favor.” That is a statement as true in Putin-era Russia as it was in Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles or Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago.

The sympathetic and flawed lead character puts a haunting human face on contemporary Russia, often demonized by the media.

Pub Date: July 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-91225-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Omsk Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2017

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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