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A melodramatic springboard and a heavy-handed depiction of Soviet repression characterize this Roots-search story of twins Madge and John, whose ship-captain grandfather announces on their 16th birthday that he adopted them as infants. Their mother was a Russian stowaway on his ship, discovered when in labor within sight of Hoboken, who died after giving birth in a US hospital. Now, armed only with her name and Odessa address, Madge insists on a summer visit to Odessa, where Grandfather's American engineer friend, in Russia on a project, will put up the twins. Their inquiry leads them to their mother's uncle, a retired professor who tells them nothing, is hassled by the KGB because of their visit, and dies of a stroke soon after. (Back home, their half-black, half-Indian housekeeper had warned that the trip would bring trouble to others.) Meanwhile the twins become friendly with the Bulanovs, three English-speaking young Russians on their own while their scientist parents do field work. The oldest Bulanov, a college student, is writing a manuscript intended for Samizdat circulation, and Victor, a creepy motherless teenager who lives in the Bulanovs' building, spies on the family for his KGB father. Sure enough, the Bulanovs are also subjected to a search while enjoying a social evening with the twins. Madge rises to the emergency and dashes out with the Samizdat manuscript, which occasions the inevitable scary hide-and-seek and, eventually, an encounter with their father which shatters Madge's expectations. It may well surprise readers too, but the man gives such a clichÉd and implausibly perspectived account of himself that you can't share her response. In fact it's all so staged and stereotyped that the involvement is strictly on a mechanical-mystery level.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1982
Publisher: Crown