This amazing debut has it all -- three exceptional characters provide the Troika of the title, but it's their interaction that provides the tension an...moreThis amazing debut has it all -- three exceptional characters provide the Troika of the title, but it's their interaction that provides the tension and heart at its core. Justin, who having led a life overcoming unusual challenges starting with his Russian childhood meets Perla, a young dancer in a seedy Little Havana strip club. Told from three points of view what unfolds is a story of powerful originality and force. It just misses a 5 star rating because some of the segues are not as smooth or believable as they could be, but the strengths of the characters carry the action forward, and the unflinching description at the center is one of the most devastating things I have read. It would not be fair to tell who relates it and why would give away too much of a plot element that should be revealed to the reader as the author intended, so I won't do so here. Highly recommended.(less)
The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has come to represent former Soviet Republic in its waning years. Although it happened 5 years before the dissolutio...moreThe nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has come to represent former Soviet Republic in its waning years. Although it happened 5 years before the dissolution of the central state, it appeared to pave the way. But it is the human element that makes this book important. There are three central figures, but their lives are enriched by those around them more than the disaster. One could draw similarities between this and other pivotal events, for me, most notably, the government's reaction to the first responders echoed that of insurance being withheld from 9/11 firemen and police first on the scene. The story pays out through the experiences of a 10 year old piano prodigy, his aunt and her husband who actually provide the story's center, and a 13 year old native of Chernobyl who represents the plight of the evacuees. I found it engrossing, and while not as compelling as it could have been, still a very good read. (less)
Gary Shteyngart has a knack for writing. He admits it comes easily, and in a recent interview by Kelly Corrigan (The Middle Place) she expressed a hum...moreGary Shteyngart has a knack for writing. He admits it comes easily, and in a recent interview by Kelly Corrigan (The Middle Place) she expressed a humorous F*** You on behalf of struggling writers everywhere. That a memorist was his interviewer was genius on the part of the event arrangers since she gave a more in-depth quality to her questions. Since family plays the biggest role to both authors, it was an inspired interview
The book is written with his signature, self-deprecating humor, humanizing events that could have been maudlin. His portrait of his parents is revelatory, affectionate without being sloppy, at times hilarious.
Back to St. Petersburg and Shteyngart's flair for writing -- his grandmother promised him a piece of cheese for every page he produced for his first novel. He ate 100 pieces of cheese. He was 5 years old. After emigrating to the United States at the age of 7, he began a lifelong odyssey in the search of his identity. This intensely readable memoir is more than generous with personal revelations. A wonderfully likable personality emerges. It makes me want to go back and reread his 3 novels, finding secrets from his corporeal self between those pages.(less)
Anthony Marra hits the ground from the first page and doesn't let up. This beautiful novel is one of the best debuts I've read, and while it evokes me...moreAnthony Marra hits the ground from the first page and doesn't let up. This beautiful novel is one of the best debuts I've read, and while it evokes memories of The Tiger's Wife, it occupies a larger canvas. Read from the perspective of an American who has never experienced war's devastation first hand, it presents a community determined to survive. The three central characters demonstrate a resilience seemingly beyond what humans are capable of enduring. Americans have not been informed about the Chechan wars as completely as the strifes in the former Yugoslavia, possibly because of the lack of UN forces which paved the way for journalists to report those events to the rest of the world. So unfamiliar was I with the area, I had to look it up in order to orient myself not only with the geography, but also with the facts of the wars. The devastation of cities such as Grozny was as total, but did not receive the saturation coverage accorded to other wars.
But it is the strength of the storytelling that propels the plot, and the beauty of the characters. Marra employs a timeline at the start of each chapter to firmly root the reader in time. There is never a doubt as to who is being developed in relation to others. In addition to the three central characters (an incompetent doctor, a female surgeon and an 8-year old girl), there is an entire community of characters each of whom could serve as the central figure in a book of their own. It really does take a village to save a child.
A second reading only enhances the strengths of this luminescent novel. (less)
It is hard to quantify this book as it doesn't fall into any established category. It is a dissection of a favorite film that digresses into personal...moreIt is hard to quantify this book as it doesn't fall into any established category. It is a dissection of a favorite film that digresses into personal detail so that the reader finds himself learning more about Geoff Dyer than about Tarkovsky or The Stalker. It wasn't love at first sighting, but Dyer found the film remained in his head, causing him to seek it out whenever it was showing and looking it up when visiting New York or London in this hopes it was on a screen somewhere. A purist, Dyer is a man of definite tastes (he will not allow the likes of, say Russell Brank into his house), and although he owns a dvd of The Stalker, has yet to watch it on the telly. I appreciate this sensibility -- I also won't watch certain films at home -- the theatrical experience cannot be duplicated. He admits to over stretching the analysis, as the film could e summarized in a few sentences. But his digressions, mostly in footnotes that comprise almost half the book's length, are by turns revelatory and hilarious. He referencers other works of supposed classic status, and is refreshingly unpretentious For example he has little tolerance for what I call Nouvelle Vague. The fact that Tarkovsky met Michaelangelo Antonioni is significant since some of the scenes described resemble key scenes from the latter's works. But Antonioni doesn't get off so easy -- Dyer remarks on his seemingly endless boredom at L'Aventura. Although he doesn't mention him, this reminded me of Bela Tarr's eight hour epic Satantango, which had takes so long they lasted for entire reels. I found the book enjoyable even though I hadn't seen this particular Tarkovsky film. I have seen 3 others which are referenced ad which Dyer had little patience for. Having read this book, I don't think I'll go out and seek this movie out any time soon -- despite Dyer''s reverence. Or maybe because of it.(less)
Beautiful, deceptively slim volume can be read in one sitting (recommended), holds so much story that it will be worth m;multiple readings. Stalinist...moreBeautiful, deceptively slim volume can be read in one sitting (recommended), holds so much story that it will be worth m;multiple readings. Stalinist Russia brought vividly hauntingly to life. This is the second identity theft novel taking place during the chaos of WWII that I have read within a short time, and found riveting. Stories within stories, layers and meanings. Highly recommended.(less)