Finished: Jan 8, 2011
First Published: Nov. 30, 2010
Genre: magical realism, crime, historical fiction
Every day, he tries to escape the nightmare.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
Reason for Reading: The Russian historical aspects and the publisher's summary had me intrigued.
This is a very difficult book to give a summary as nothing is as it seems but let me tell you what appears to be happening as the book starts. Alik Strelnikov is a Russian immigrant who made a deal back in Russia which got him his freedom in America. This 'freedom' lead him to working for a second fiddle Russian mob group in Coney Island as an enforcer. Here he lives an existence with his girlfriend in an apartment drinking, listening to old Russian records and shooting heroin to forget what he has become. But he is plagued with dreams, nightmares actually, the same ones over and over, which show him in various situations in different uniforms and he is always afraid. These nightmares will take us back in history to pre-revolutionary Russia, to WWI, to the Chechen Wars and back to 1910s New York.
This is an awesome, gripping story. The reader has no idea of what is really going on for some time. My mind contemplated these dreams as possible flashbacks to past lives, psychic visions of the past, a tortured man turning his real problems into symbolic messages and finally a simpler consideration, the raving dreams of a madman. Why he keeps having the dreams is not so important but the recurring themes that they carry are. With the ultimate one of betrayal being the most affecting on him. Then the book takes an extreme magical or psychedelic turn and one can possibly start to put things together until near the very end when the author hits us with a very subtle reveal we hardly notice it until the final page with it's shocking end. I actually stared at the last page for some seconds before the reveal sank in. A fabulous end!
The writing and the art combine to make a surreal, strange, semi-conscious type of plot. This is not going to be a book for everyone. Not for the type who like their plots to begin at A and end at Z. The plot is incongruous and where it is going the reader cannot grasp until a certain point 2/3s of the way through. This is not a bad thing though. I found the book utterly captivating to read. It's one of those few books that stand out alone as an "I've never read anything quite like it before!" book. The art is fascinatingly done mostly in a palette of terracottas, greys and purplish blues that turn into lavenders at more lighthearted scenes (not that there are many of those). If you've ever seen old Communist posters or postage stamps from the era, the art reminds me of that style at times. Otherwise it matches the mood of the story perfectly.