(No, not a book about the football team, but a book about Jewish history. I know I'm predictable)
Sana Krasikov's debut novel, The Patriots, is an epic family saga stretching between Brooklyn and Moscow from the turn of the twentieth century to 2008. Flatbush, Brooklyn native Florence Fein leaves Brooklyn in 1934 for the Soviet Union to help "build socialism" -- and ends up in a gulag in the 50s. But even after her release, and the death of her husband, she stays loyal to the "revolution." Why did she stay loyal to her ideals? In 2008, her son, Julian - who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union because he couldn't advance in university due to his Jewish heritage - struggles to understand his mother and his own son, Lenny, who has returned to Moscow.
Sound confusing? I promise it's not. It's two interweaving stories: Florence's, through her whole life, and Julian's, at one moment in his life (visiting his son in Moscow). Florence's chapters are written in close third person: "She would have done anything to escape Flatbush, gone anywhere to find a life of meaning and consequence that surely existed beyond the pale of Brooklyn -- a territory that, like Ireland or Poland, was always doomed to lie in the shadow of a superior power." (17) And Julian's are written in first person: "For all his criticism of America, it struck me that Lenny was the most forcibly American one at this table: a gabber, a confessor, an over-sharer. Fishing out desiccated bits of family "dysfunction" from the black holes of memory to vindicate himself." (331)
The power of the story is found in its scale: the issue of Soviet Jewry, American-Soviet relations, flawed idealism, a family saga... but also in its tiny details. For example, when Krasikov writes about the leather jacket in Soviet life: "The knee-length leather coat, perhaps the first and only fashion statement communism ever gave the world (aside from Mao's notable collar), the quintessential symbol of proletarian ruggedness and revolutionary masculinity, was adopted first by the Bolshevik defenders of the working class, before becoming the favored apparel of the secret police." (196)
The story was well told, and dealt with the issues of loyalty, idealism, identity, and Jews. And because I can't help myself quoting The New York Times Book Review (it just puts it *so well*) -- "Russia once again poses a threat to American democracy. What will it do to American literature? Our most vulnerable faction — our first responders — would seem to be the writers in the thriving subgenre of the Russian-Jewish émigré novel. Its members — among them Gary Shteyngart, Boris Fishman, Anya Ulinich, Ellen Litman and Kseniya Melnik — were born in the Soviet Union and left as children or teenagers. In their novels, the disorienting clash between Soviet gloom and American gaud is the source of dramatic tension, exploited for tragedy and, more often, comedy."
A fascinating and worthwhile read. Rating: ★★★★★