The Patriots – Sana Krasikov
Release Date: 02/03/2017
Publisher: Granta Books (UK) (Review Copy Provided)
Pages: pp. 560 RRP: £12.99 (Hardcover)
Kindle edition available here (£8.54)
For your debut novel to cover such complex topics as identity, loyalty and the manipulation of truth, all intertwined in the complex historical relationship between the US and the Soviet Union, is a bold choice indeed. To cover theses topics, convey such a rich, evocative portrait of Moscow through the ages, and to lend a genuine sense of danger in a narrative marks Sana Krasikov’s debut novel, The Patriots, as one to take your time reading.
When Florence Fein trades 1930s Brooklyn for Magnitgorsk, having been swept up in the desire to escape the American Dream to pursue a naive ideal of life with what she sees as ‘consequence and meaning’ – as well as chase a young Russian by the name of Sergei – she soon finds the ideal doesn’t match reality, just as the events leading to the Great Purges begin to come together. Seventy years after this, her son Julian is seeking to answer the question that would define his mother – whilst dealing with his own son’s efforts to be a cowboy businessman in Russia of today – why did she refuse to condemn the system that not only imprisoned her for the best part of a decade, but also killed her husband and ultimately ruined her family?
Krasikov’s narrative erratically jumps between Florence and Julian’s stories, ensuring that their respective storylines develop in tandem. Whilst Julian seeks to extract his mother’s files from the remnants of the Soviet Union, he’s also there to help promote the icebreakers he designs for the oil industry. Florence’s timeline follows her plight amidst the hundreds of Americans who were ultimately abandoned by their government to be ensnared within the terror wrought by Stalin. Krasikov has managed to expertly channel her own family’s experience into her novel (Krasikov herself was born in the Ukraine and grew up in Georgia, before moving to New York), with an air of ever-present dread and terror conveyed with an almost brutal effectiveness in some of the later sections of Florence’s story.
I was genuinely surprised to read a novel which could be described as simultaneously a bildungsroman, a corporate thriller, a family saga, and a historical novel – and Krasikov makes it work so effectively. Krasikov also provides an intriguing examination of the nature of patriotism – particularly through Julian’s examination of what he sees as his mother’s blind conviction (one that could be seen as being analogous to the zeal of the convert), and how someone of that mindset is capable of building a ‘fact-proof screen’ in order to justify their new world view.
I found myself pleasantly surprised that at the end of 560 pages, not only had I been taken on a truly fascinating journey and examination of the development of political morality, but that I wasn’t exhausted by such a hefty topic – all credit to Krasikov and her gifted prose. It may be a taunting book to hold in your hand, but it will reward you for the time you invest in it – a most definitely solid recommendation.