Lera and Grisha have moved to the U.S. for his work, first for HP and then for Morgan Stanley. But Grisha wants more; he wants to cash in on the boom in Russia and so he develops an idea for his own business--a sort of Russian Fannie Mae. To get it off the ground, they sell their house and move back to Moscow to the flat that they kept, for reasons that are never clear. And then the story, such as it is, begins.
Because the author’s name was not known to me, I wanted to like this story. I really did. I’m tired of Boyle and Ford and Munro and all the rest. And some things about the story appealed to me. I liked the jump from New York to an exotic setting, although all we really saw of that setting was the flat in Moscow and some glimpses of street life (I love the scene with the egg lady). I like the character Lera’s discovery of fraud and corruption, as if she had not seen that in Moscow before she and her husband moved to the U.S., and as if she had not seen anything like it in New York. Her naiveté is not terribly credible, but it is slightly endearing. But there is not much else to like. Her husband’s distance is plain, his own deception obvious, even if his motivation is not, and even if the narrative voice had not told us in the first paragraph that Grisha and Lera’s marriage was ending the reader wouldn’t have to be particularly astute to see that coming. The only surprise is that Lera, apparently, doesn’t end up in the dire straits that her friend Lidochka is in. Somehow Lera has the presence of mind of freeze Grisha’s bank accounts and get herself set up back home (in the U.S., that is). She may be saddened by the experience, and wiser, but so what? She wants to hate Grisha, but she can’t. She forgives him. So what?
While the stakes for this woman are clear from the outset, the trouble she gets into isn’t of her making. And she gets out of it pretty painlessly, it seems to me. Which isn’t very interesting to watch.
April 21, 2008: “The Repatriates” by Sana Krasikov