cover image The Light and the Dark

The Light and the Dark

Mikhail Shishkin, trans. from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. Quercus, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62365-046-9

After being separated by war, a pair of lovers dream about their brief time together in Shishkin’s striking but sometimes confusing novel. Vladimir and Alexandra, known to each other respectively as Vovka and Sashenka, fell in love during a summer spent together in the countryside as teenagers. Now they write to each other recounting their days and reminiscing about the past. Both work as medics: Sashenka at home, monitoring a troubled couple, and Vovka in the army, on a campaign to China to help quell the Boxer Rebellion. He attempts to remain human in the face of war, often looking back to the town where he and Sashenka met or the books they used to share. Vovka and Sashenka narrate their histories apart as vivid snippets of memories, even as Shishkin reveals that, somehow, the two lovers live in different eras, with Sashenka inhabiting a time closer to our own than to Vovka’s. Despite this disorienting foray into mysticism, their tales cohere into a portrait of Russians growing up too soon, enlisted in causes not their own, exemplified by Sashenka’s belief in a second, disobedient self who lives out the dreams she can’t. (Nov.)