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A fairy-tale romance—in the strictest sense of the term—between a malcontent Russian wife and a fallen angel provides the outline of Moscow physicist Dezhnev’s American debut. Russia has always been a rather mysterious part of the world, with a history that is largely brutal and a literature that considers tragedy a point of pride. In Russia, declares narrator Luka, “everything is more meaningful and intense, even if it’s for the reason that almost no one here is living here in a first life.” Luka should know; after all, he’s a domovoi, a kind of Russian house ghost who must inhabit a Moscow apartment for as long as it takes him to expiate the sins of his past life. Not the best job in the world, by any means, but by Russian standards Luka is extremely lucky: He lives in the apartment of an old Party member and therefore gets to be the only ghost in residence. His human landlady dies early in the story, however, and her niece Anna inherits the place. Anna is a TV news director, her husband Sergei a physicist. Although not Communists, they—re modern, educated Russians not given to mysticism and unlikely to believe in ghosts. But as soon as they move in, weird things begin to happen: telephone calls are rerouted to Brooklyn, walls catch on fire, and sober Sergei takes to drink. That’s their penance. Luka’s is even worse: He’s fallen in love with Anna! Now he’s in a real bind, since he can—t advance in his purification if he takes on a human form. But purification seems less important to him now that he, like the angel in Wings of Desire, has become smitten with a human. The angelic life has its rewards, but they are short on consummation. Witty, literate, and moving: Dezhnev’s allegory of the flesh and the spirit offers a sharp and up-to-date portrait of the Russian soul.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-49326-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999