THE PATRIOTS, by Sana Krasikov, is not for the faint of heart. It’s a sweeping, harsh, multigenerational saga that takes place mostly in Russia. It’s brilliant.
The year is 1935. The place is the upper deck of the Bremen in New York harbor, and Florence Fein is waving good bye to her entire family below. She bought her ticket to Russia and then told her father. ” Breaking your family’s heart was the price you paid for rescuing your own.” She’s going alone. She believes she’s going to a better place. She’s got a job and is excited about joining an economic revolution, a classless society with gender equality. But, really, she is clueless about the reality of The Soviet Union in the 30’s. And, of course, there is a man. He doesn’t know Florence is coming….
This is the second important book this season that takes place in Russia. However, A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, by Amor Towles, is nothing like THE PATRIOTS. While GENTLEMAN was brilliant and amazing it was also whimsical and enchanting. There is nothing whimsical about PATRIOTS. Nothing. But it is brilliant.
I have to say that the timing of the publication of THE PATRIOTS is eerie. This year the news reports have been filled with news of Russia and Putin. I have never felt comfortable about Russia. I’ve read novels and thrillers over the years that took place in Russia. It’s always like reading about something happening in another world. That’s because it is another world. It’s mostly a frightening place. Nothing seems to be concrete. At times I can feel my own ignorance about the country and it’s history. But I am learning. I think this novel is quite possibly the most realistic history about The Cold War that you will find. And I believe it is an important piece of brilliant literature that should be read by everyone in the free world today.
Florence Fein quickly discovers a far different world than she had envisioned. Far from the revolutionary wonder she sought, she is swallowed up in a horrific way of life that she never signed on for. When she does finally hook up with the young man she’s looking for, of course that does not turn out like it was supposed to. But she stays in Russia, gets a job as a translator in Moscow with a bank, and continues to be loyal to the cause.
I almost put the book down at this point. I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine doing what Florence does. But I put on my big girl glasses and sucked it up. I truly wanted to finish this. And so I did.
It’s harsh. Really harsh. The Soviet labor camps were equal to the German camps. Yes, they were. How can one survive? Some of these scenes are difficult to read. But necessary to move the story along. Krasikov’s research is second to none. This sweeping tale is filled with palpable tension. One scene when Florence’s American passport is confiscated scared me to death. Because I knew what that meant.
The scenes in the apartments where Florence lives with her husband and son and many others are still stuck in my mind. All these families living in what used to be one apartment but had been divided into many with one shared kitchen and one bath for all to share. For years she lived like this.
The scenes of interrogation over and over again. The tautness that grew and grew until you wanted to scream. The knowing yet not knowing…
Florence has a son Julian who is estranged from her; put in an orphanage and made a ward of the state. This story is also told in his voice when he is older. He ends up being what they called a disenchanted Soviet Jew in 1970’s. And is then allowed to move to America with his family. Later he returns to Moscow to find out what really happened with his mother. And history begins to repeat itself as Julian’s son Lenny leaves America to live and work in Russia.
This is one of those important books that has arrived at this point in time for a reason. Russia scares me. It always has. There it is. But I believe I understand it better after reading THE PATRIOT. Not an easy read. Not a fun read. But a brilliant story told brilliantly.
Sana Krasikov was born in Ukraine and raised in the Soviet republic of Georgia until she was eight, when her family immigrated to the United States, she has lived in Moscow and Nairobi and now lives in New York. She knows of what she writes.
My review copy came from Random House Publishing Group. This one is a real winner.