An idealistic young American heads for the Soviet Union in 1934, with consequences that reverberate through three generations in Krasikov’s ambitious and compelling first novel (One More Year: Stories, 2008).
The grim saga of Florence Fein’s education in the realities of Soviet life is punctuated by her son Julian’s sardonic first-person account of his return to Moscow in 2008 to facilitate an American-Soviet oil project, during which he also takes jaundiced looks back at his fraught relationship with his mother. Julian, one of the disenchanted Soviet Jews allowed to emigrate in the late 1970s, has never really forgiven Florence for her stubborn loyalty to the brutal police state that murdered her husband, sent her to a labor camp, and stuck their son in state orphanages. Julian is equally judgmental about his son, Lenny, an expatriate venture capitalist in Moscow who fancies himself “a cowboy on the frontiers of private enterprise,” while Julian bitterly finds capitalist Russia as corrupt and repressive as its Soviet predecessor. Krasikov skillfully intertwines multiple narratives and time frames in a sweeping drama that is both a touching affirmation of the enduring bonds of family and a searing examination of the ghastly moral quandaries faced by the subjects of a totalitarian state. Her American passport confiscated, terrified by the threats of the secret police, Florence is reduced to informing on friends and colleagues; the chapters chronicling her experiences in the gulag bring to life a horrific world in which survival is the only goal but also give her an opportunity to make amends for her betrayals. The once-secret police files Julian unearths in Moscow teach him to judge his mother more gently and admire her resourceful manipulation of her oppressors; he even emulates some of her tactics to protect Lenny from the threat posed by a sinister Russian “vice-president of corporate security.”
We do the best we can in an imperfect world, Krasikov reminds us in a dark tale brightened by tender compassion for human frailty.