Who Is Martha?
Gaponenko’s novel is a mostly successful portrayal of a terminally ill nonagenarian who decides to leave life with a bang. Luka Levadski, a 96-year-old world-renowned ornithologist, looks at his past with perspicacity, trying to understand his father’s early suicide and his own youthful fascination for birds and passion for classical music. When he is diagnosed with lung cancer, he resists his doctor’s recommendation for treatment and buys sharp new clothes and a silver-handled walking stick instead. With the intention to die, checks into a suite at the grand Hotel Imperial in Vienna—bills be damned. Problems arise when the effects of his disease and a penchant for alcohol kick in, resulting in puzzling hallucinations including the appearance—it’s unclear whether it’s real or imaginary—of a young woman from the Soviet Union. These fantasies muddy the latter part of the narrative a bit, but the inclusion of Levadski’s new friends, the hotel butler and another elderly guest, elevate this story of joie de vivre in the face of death. (Oct.)