Nancy Richler, Author . Ecco $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-009677-9

Like a doomed love affair, the Russian Revolution proceeds according to its own inexorable logic in this haunting U.S. debut by Canadian Richler (Throw Away Angels). Within hours of Miriam Lev's birth into a swampy shtetl in prerevolutionary Minsk, her mother dispatches her to a wet nurse and drowns herself. Six years later, Miriam is halfheartedly reclaimed by her father, Aaron, "the Stutterer," newly married to the young seamstress Tsila. With her grotesque facial birthmark and a disposition "sour as spoiled milk," Tsila fulfills the job requirements for wicked stepmother. But this remarkably complex character educates Miriam "to be a human being among human beings" and instills in her the urge to escape ("Nice is somewhere else"). She also binds Miriam to her own family, especially to her rebellious sister Bayla, now scandalously cohabitating with the agitator Leib in Kiev. Convinced that poverty, pogroms and mounting political unrest are making Russia uninhabitable, Tsila decides they'll emigrate to Argentina. But late in 1904, just months before the outbreak of revolution, she sends Miriam to Kiev to find Bayla—a quest that leads to a Siberian political prison. Weaving together political and cultural history, magical realism and the resigned mordancy of Jewish humor, Richler has created a world that seems totally inhabited, but poised to self-destruct. Too many tangential incidents and indistinguishable minor characters crowd the novel, but in Tsila, Bayla and especially in Miriam, Richler has created unforgettable, deeply nuanced characters, freethinking dreamers whose revolutionary activities feel both historically inevitable and mysteriously personal. Agent, Dean Cooke. (Nov. 8)

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 356 pages - 978-0-00-200522-7
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-06-009678-6
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-1-4434-3166-8
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-1-4434-2387-8
Show other formats
Discover what to read next