CBR10Bingo – Shiny! 2018 book
I liked this book a lot. So much so that I almost gave it five stars. It’s more flawed than that would otherwise suggest, occasionally feeling repetitive or digressive. But the tone is incredibly infectious, the narrator is so succinct, and it’s so obvious that the author has a complete command over the subject matter.
The novel is about a Russian scholar who has just come off his third unsuccessful turn on the academic job market, suffering from being too much of a generalist in Russian history, literature, and culture to rightly appeal to hiring committees, and because he was born in Russia and spent many years of his youth there, it’s a difficult pill to swallow. It’s the economic crash and he’s teaching online class and looking for a publication. He decides to move to Moscow to his brother’s apartment and to help care for his grandmother, while hoping to find something to write about. While he’s there, he feels the constant threat of violence from the kind of lawlessness that Russia has always sort of engendered, absolute appeal of a few specific women, and of course hockey.
The novel does some deep dives into Russian culture and politics of the last 30 years alongside a 300 or so history in broad strokes and at times this being wearisome. But the narrator is the pitch perfect person to be making this work. He’s actually smart, he makes some bad and some good choices, he’s not a buffoon, a villain, or a saint. He’s a well-realized and captured voice dealing with a very strange last-capitalism situation.
In addition the novel is an interesting recasting of Russian city novels (it’s some Tolstoy, some Dostoevsky, some 20th century Soviet writers). I found myself being affirmed in my own sparse research into Russian and learning a great deal as well. I also found the grandmother character to be very sweet and endearing and for the story to resonate in a lot of interesting ways.