tries very hard to be dark and satirical and paint a picture of America and Russia that is both brutal and touching. It partly succeeds, in that there were many moments in the book that I thought perfectly conveyed the grimness of living in impoverished post-Soviet Russia, and the grimness of living as an outsider in the "land of opportunity" when you have no status and are reliant on the strings-attached charity of those who always have more money and power than you. Russia and America can both be grim places for anyone who is "Other" (as the main character, an overweight black Jewish girl from Siberia is in both countries). But Petropolis
is not really a tragedy -- Sasha's life is sometimes depressing and sometimes funny, and Ulinich pokes fun at the foibles of her country of birth and her adopted country. She gets the details so right sometimes, and there are moments of real poignancy. But the humor falls flat, the satire is neither biting nor clever enough to make this book really stand out as a literary masterpiece to me. So in the end, it's a decent story about a Russian immigrant and her journey from Siberia to Arizona to Chicago to New York, and her relations with her family and friends (a cast as eclectic and mixed as she is).
I guess my ambivalence about this book is reflected in the three stars. It was good, the writing was occasionally stand-out in its literary detail and especially in the characters and their appearances and the thoughts running through Sasha's head... and yet somewhere it just fell flat for me. The ending seemed wrapped up a little too neatly, I never fully engaged with the main character, and the satire didn't quite connect with me. I suspect a Russian immigrant, someone who shares both the author and the main character's background, would get a lot of the nuances (and humor) that I missed. Added to that is the fact that this was an unusual selection for me, not the sort of book I usually read to begin with, and it wasn't quite compelling enough to make me say, "Yeah, I want to read more like this." Did I enjoy it enough to finish it? Yes. Am I likely to seek out other books by this author, or books with similar themes? No, not really.