A young movie director takes inspiration from her life in St. Petersburg.
Masha Regina is a provincial girl from a remote Russian backwater. She isn’t content there. “I don’t want to spend my life like you!” she tells her bus-driving father before taking off for the city. On the train, the teenage Masha meets a boy, Roma, who helps her find her way to a school where another young man, A.A., teaches; A.A. helps her to be admitted. Both figures end up playing important roles in Masha’s life. It turns out to be a prominent life. Masha grows up to be a film director, to make artful, influential—indeed, revolutionary—films of which all Europe stands in awe. Levental's debut novel, which was shortlisted for Russia's Big Book Award, describes those films in detail: they draw heavily on Masha’s various experiences, her vacillations between Roma and A.A. in particular. But the novel works on several levels at once and is replete with references from Pushkin to Gogol, Tom Stoppard to Star Wars and even Hegel. It’s a cerebral work that urges its readers to consider the limits of ambition, the price of making art. Masha leaves a trail of loved ones in her wake. Levental is concerned with something like fate: Masha wonders again and again if the decisions she’s making are truly her own. Is there any such thing as choice? After all, “in the final reckoning,” Levental observes, “seemingly very little really depends on our decisions in this life.” In this way, his characters—Masha, Roma, and A.A. among them—take on the qualities of Masha’s own characters, none of whom can escape the screenplays in which they appear.
This genre-defying novel takes on the limits of talent and ambition, fate and art in contemporary Europe.