Is it no longer possible for poetry to carry the soul of nations? That’s the question raised by this tale of a love affair between a young American student and an exiled Soviet poet.
In the late 1990s, Kit Malone heads to St. Petersburg to meet with friends of Russian poet Innokenti Falin, whom she knew in the ’60s shortly after he was exiled and took up a teaching position in the US. She hopes to learn what became of her old flame, but it turns out the scholars and poets she meets are equally curious about what Falin was doing stateside before his death. Malone tells them her story: flashback to Kit as college student, interested in poetry, taking a course from the closely watched professor, once one of Russia’s lost children. It’s soon clear that the two are drawn to each other’s history of sadness and loss, and the private lessons in poetry turn into mutual translation with all the earmarks of love and passion. It can only last so long, however; Falin is under the intelligence microscope, and that scrutiny only intensifies when the Cuban Missile Crisis heats up. Before long, Malone finds a creepy Fed in Falin’s house, is asked to keep tabs on her lover, and learns that not all her friends are friendly. When it becomes clear that the world’s survival is on the line, Falin suggests that by mysteriously disappearing he may be able to affect the outcome. Crowley’s lovely, effortless writing (Daemonomania, 2000, etc.) and his accurate, earnest portraits of Russians make this a sad love story with an important piece of rhetoric at its heart. Did poetry survive the ’60s? Does mutual assured destruction render verse obsolete? Falin, our hero bard, disappears into the netherworld he’d come from, but the world survives.
A rarity: a love story with a core of intelligence and insight.