cover image The Orchard

The Orchard

Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry. Ballantine, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-35601-2

Gorcheva-Newberry’s stunning debut novel (after the collection What Isn’t Remembered) follows two girls as they navigate the hardships of growing up in communist Russia. Anya Raneva’s and Milka Putova’s childhoods in the early 1980s are deeply impacted by the Cold War. They play war (and sex) games with limbless dolls, belittle their parents’ concerns about the toilet paper shortage and rationing, and dream about running away from Moscow and eloping in Paris. They reference Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard repeatedly, in heated discussions with their other friends about social class, inequality, and change. (The play becomes something of a manifesto for Anya and her peers, even if they don’t relate specifically to its antiquated characters.) As the story progresses, the author builds a complicated and intense friendship between the independently minded Anya and Milka, who question tradition during a time when Russians tended to build close families in order to survive (“Could a woman be happy without a man? Could she be respected if she had no children? Could she ever be as free as a man?”). They spend their early teenage years longing for more freedom, but at 16, when the iron curtain falls, a cascading tragedy involving a pregnancy swiftly follows, and their dreams of seeing the world together and studying at a prestigious university turn bitter. Gorcheva-Newberry pulls off a tragic and nostalgic love letter to a much-tried generation. This is a winner. Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Mar.)