"NATALYA, GOD'S MESSENGER" by Magda Bogin

"NATALYA, GOD'S MESSENGER"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Writing with a wry sense of humor and a keen sense of irony, Bogin knits together prophecy, politics, and love in an ambitious if wobbly first novel. It is V-E Day, and Rita the Riveter (a practicing Communist) knows she will lose her job when the men return. She impulsively answers an ad by a retiring palmreader on Manhattan's Lower East Side and soon finds herself set up as the new Natalya, God's Messenger, complete with turban, and dime-store ruby pasted to her forehead. Shortly after taking over the business, Rita discovers that she truly can see the future, the past, and all sorts of other things in people's palms. Her family is skeptical, and Leo, her comrade and lover of many years, abandons her. But her closest friends rally round as she tries to piece together the key to the future from the glimpses she receives in the hands of her many customers. The story is narrated by Rita's niece, although much of the narrative takes place before she is even born. The sense of this device becomes apparent at the conclusion, but it makes for a clunky framework. Rita's visions are frequently abstract, and her pronouncements even more so. The flow of images, ranging from bombs to the Beatles to My Lai and beyond, is sweeping and a bit contrived. Indeed, Rita takes herself and her mission so seriously that it occasionally becomes a stretch for readers to follow along. We never fully empathize with or really understand Rita, and this forestalls any deeper involvement in the story. The book's best moments are its portraits of the quirky locals who frequent Rita's storefront; Bogin shines in these neighborhood sketches, which give free play to the subtlety of her humor. Full of fresh ideas and ironic wit, the novel just doesn't come together in the end. A bumpy start for a promising talent.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribners