cover image Peter Nevsky and the True Story of the Russian Moon Landing

Peter Nevsky and the True Story of the Russian Moon Landing

John Calvin Batchelor. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (499pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-2141-7

Highly praised for his innovative, expansive fiction ( American Falls ), Batchelor produces his most ambitious novel to date, recreating the dramas of the U.S.-Soviet space race, communist tyranny and complicated personal loyalties. Narrated by cosmonaut hopeful Peter Nevsky, set in the late '60s and based at Starry Town (home of the Cosmonaut Corps), the story hinges on the quest for the first moon landing. At the same time, it explores the realms of larger-than-life characters, including Nevsky's three mentors, who rule the Soviet space program, and the two women who change his future. The author renders culture and politics (including the '68 invasion of Czechoslovakia) to great effect; moreover, he utterly convinces the reader that a Russian manned mission to the moon was launched prior to the Apollo 11 . Testifying to Batchelor's vast range, the most moving development of all is Nevsky's religious awakening. And although neither the fine points of aeronautics nor the senseless brutality sanctioned by Soviet officials makes for light reading, this novel is very much a page-turner, combining the turbulence of betrayal and evil with the boyish, shoot-for-the-stars wonder that is Batchelor's forte. Here, the fatalism of 19th-century literary masters coexists honestly with futuristic imagination and hope. (May)