Sunday, May 31, 2009

Petropolis by Anya Ulinich (3M's Review)

From a fearful height, a wandering light,
but does a star glitter like this, crying?

Transparent star, wandering light
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

From a fearful height, earthly dreams are alight,
and a green star is crying.
Oh star, if you are the brother of water and light,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

A monstrous ship, from a fearful height,
is rushing on, spreading its wings, flying.
Green star, in beautiful poverty,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.

Transparent spring has broken, above the black Neva’s hiss
the wax of immortality is liquefying.
Oh if you are star – your city, Petropolis,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying. 
–Osip Mandelstam

Sasha Goldberg has a hard life in Asbestos 2, a dying town in Siberia. Her father has either disappeared or left his family, her mother is very high-strung and a bit crazy, and her community is almost completely in shambles. After securing a coveted position in a prestigious art school, Sasha, too, leaves it all to become a mail order bride to an American. In America, she learns English, lives in Arizona, Chicago, and New York, and tries to find her father. In doing all this, she is also trying to find herself and come to terms with her past and her homeland.

I could say so much more about the basic plot of the book, but I always hesitate to give away too many spoilers. Sasha was a very unique character, and I enjoyed reading about her and seeing her development from a young girl to a young woman. The imagery in the book was also done very well. The descriptions of the poverty in Asbestos 2 were especially convincing, and there is a scene at the end of the book that I found particularly chilling (but fascinating). In fact, the last few pages of the book impressed me enough to raise my rating from a 4 to a 4.5. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in Russian history and/or the immigrant experience.

Anya Ulinich’s website:

2007, 324 pp.
Rating: stars4h.gif

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