THE BEGINNING OF SPRING by Penelope Fitzgerald


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Prolific Fitzgerald (Innocence; Offshore; etc.) tackles different cultures with the same sort of intensity that Meryl Streep masters foreign accents--and with similar results: admirable and polished performances that are always just a trifle self-aware. Here, it's Moscow in 1913 and Frank Reid, an Englishman who has spent most of his life in Russia, comes home after work at his printing company to find that his wife Nellie has mysteriously departed, by train, for England, taking their three children With her. But the three children turn up the next day, back in Moscow, without mama. And from this point on, things keep getting curiouser and curiouser for Frank. First, there is the matter of the drunken bear cub ransacking a dining room, smashing china and destroying 23 bottles of the finest vodka. Then there is the break-in at the printing press--where a young student fires his gun at Frank. And, finally, there is the discomfiting attraction that Frank feels for Lisa Ivanovna--the silent peasant gift he has hired to look after his children. In the end, the conceit is that nothing is quite what it seemed: Nellie is not a monster who has abandoned her family; Frank's faithful assistant, Selwyn, is not just a vague, good-hearted disciple of Tolstoy; Lisa Ivanovna is very much more than a simple governess. And Moscow itself is not the place it seemed to be. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald enhances the quirky energy of her story with details that seem both real and dreamlike: "the reek of tar and buckwheat pancakes"; "the sounds of a hundred bells chiming in the square"; "the potent leaf sap of the birch trees." Fitzgerald's latest sometimes has all the crackle of the breaking ice on the Moskva River--but too often the ice floes seem sculpted here, arranged on the river just to dazzle us.

ISBN: 8050-0981-7
Publisher: Henry Holt
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