After 10 years in America, a Russian woman returns home hoping to make it big, but she finds herself distracted by the allure of a charismatic lesbian couple in this well-written debut novel.
In 1997, St. Petersburg–born Inga Belova leaves New York City for Moscow, hoping to take advantage of new opportunities with her flawless English and MBA. As “a double single—divorced with no boyfriend—with a pile of student loans and a dried-up bank account,” she wonders if Russia might be where she truly belongs. Her Moscow friend Dmitry reassures her: “But you’re it: smart, beautiful, the crème de la crème. And don’t forget: long legs, perky boobs—the whole shebang.” She soon meets Alexandra Veil, publisher of the magazine Poise and one of the few truly powerful women in Russia (“Every new brand that’s launched in Russia becomes her advertiser”). She’s just where Inga wants to be, and when Alexandra and her lover, Emma, invite her into their high-powered, glamorous, wealthy lifestyle—and their bed—she likes that, too (“We can run this town. How is that?” says Alexandra). The threesome cut a swath through new-money Russia, enjoying expensive evenings out and steamy nights in. But tensions arise due to Inga and Emma’s growing closeness and Inga’s indecisiveness about Russia and the joint business. Miller engagingly presents a heroine caught between contradictions: New York and Moscow; flashy glamour and self-pitying nostalgia; certainty and doubt. The question is whether readers will enjoy seeing the protagonist go on a glitzy, sex-fueled, emotional roller-coaster ride. After all, despite Inga’s self-pity and self-doubt, she easily attracts high-powered, helpful connections to help her along the way. She works hard, too—but not much of that is on display here. The wish fulfillment of the epilogue further underlines the overall sense of fantasy; however, for some readers, the fantasy will be enough.
A sexy tale with plenty of Russian atmosphere, although Inga’s successes feel more lucky than earned.