The descriptive and flowing narrative style conveys a deep understanding of all things Russian, including glimpses of life from before the fall of the Soviet Union through the rise of the Russian Federation. The characters are vibrant, though inconsistencies in dialogue and scene transitions occasionally muffle their voices, as does a heavy reliance on narrative exposition throughout the first several chapters. Esoteric word choices and the many forms of address for one person may be jarring for those unfamiliar with Russian culture. At several points, the plot seems like little more than a very loosely connected series of vignettes (some of which tend to meander), though the purpose of each one is eventually revealed.
The subject matter, particularly human trafficking, is handled with sensitivity and respect and never feels exploitative. The way Nikolai’s various identities intersect, even as he tries to keep them compartmentalized, will strike a chord with readers. This richly developed story, in which one man’s inner journey is mirrored in the sociopolitical changes surrounding him, thoughtfully entertains.
Takeaway: This richly developed story of a man’s quest for identity in post-Soviet Russia will entertain and enthrall readers of slice-of-life literary fiction.
Great for fans of Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B-
Nikolai Delov, pushing age 50, co-owns with his brother “the largest family-owned trucking company in the Russian Federation,” a company his truck driver father founded. Delov is a public success. He proudly displays a photo of himself receiving an entrepreneurial award from President Boris Yeltsin (“A perfect example of what a renewed Russia is all about”). His private life, though, is in more of a shambles. Divorced, he suffers strained relations with his son, Valentin, a talented artist with no interest in joining the family business, who is trying to open his own gallery. One morning, Delov is visited by Inessa Zorina, who runs a foundation that provides “ ‘safe environments’ for girls escaping the sex trade.” In their initial meeting, she is simply seeking a financial donation to establish housing for the young women, but things get interesting when she prevails upon him to help her rescue a young woman from her pimp. The entrepreneur’s growing relationship with Zorina puts him at further odds with powerful business rival Vladimir Konstantinov, the scion of a Yeltsin-era oligarch. Delov uses this competitor as a benchmark to measure his own success (“An unfair standard…since Vladimir Konstantinov was anything but a truck driver’s son”). Is Konstantinov jealous of Delov and Zorina’s affair? Is it just a coincidence that Valentin is arrested and charged with being a Banksey-like covert graffiti-tagger? In a striking plot development, Delov himself comes under investigation when it appears a branch of his company is involved in the trafficking of young women. Dante (The Tiger’s Wedding, 2012) has crafted an engrossing novel with an evocative and authentic sense of place and an engaging protagonist facing myriad challenges (“If something dire happened to him, what might become of the company?”). In noir tradition, Delov finds his world upended by dark forces of which he is aware but had always been able to navigate. “Corruption is a terrible thing,” he notes at one point, “until it works in your favor.” That is a statement as true in Putin-era Russia as it was in Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles or Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago.
The sympathetic and flawed lead character puts a haunting human face on contemporary Russia, often demonized by the media.