cover image Invitation to a Bonfire

Invitation to a Bonfire

Adrienne Celt. Bloomsbury, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-63557-152-3

Celt’s disquieting second novel (following The Daughters) is set in an America distrustful of the newly formed U.S.S.R. Unfolding via an assortment of unreliable documents, it is the story of Zoya Andropova, a young Soviet refugee orphaned under grim circumstances in the late 1920s, who is placed on a transport ship full of children bound for America and given a scholarship to a private girls’ school in New Jersey. In spite of mental and physical abuse by her snobbish classmates, Zoya graduates and takes a job in the school’s greenhouse. She begins a torrid affair with a fellow Russian émigré, the well-known writer Lev Orlov, who has come with his wife, Vera, to teach at the school. In this dangerous trio, Orlov and Vera resemble the Nabokovs. Here, Vera exerts a powerful and erotic sway over Orlov, and later Zoya, as well. When Orlov embarks on a futile trip to Russia to recover a lost manuscript, both he and Vera ask Zoya to commit unconscionable acts in the name of love. Though the ending is implausible, it’s nonetheless cleverly twisted. This is an incendiary and provocative novel about obsession. (June)