Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, by Gina Ochsner

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, by Gina Ochsner. Published 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Literary Fiction.

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight is a delightful, sad, bittersweet and ultimately winning book about three families living in a grim apartment building in a desolate corner of the former Soviet Union- one Jewish, one Russian Orthodox and one Muslim.

The narrative goes back and forth between this varied cast of characters but centers on Tanya, a mousy and introverted artist working as a coat-check girl at a dilapidated museum. She lives with her shrewish grandmother and pines after her neighbor Yuri, who lives with his mother Olga, a translator, and his prickly girlfriend Zoya. Their neighbor Azade is recently widowed and her late husband Mircha just refuses to go quietly, while her son Vitek asserts himself as a petty gangster.

From all this drama emerges an engaging story mixing both grim and magical realism, politics and culture, scatology and high art. Tanya makes most of the museum's exhibits herself, and is tasked with entertaining a group of Americans considering making a large donation. Word of the Americans and their money spreads through this community and their arrival precipitates a comedic fallout that no one expects.

I thought The Russian Dreambook was a charming and wonderful book about people, and a country, trying to find its way in the wake of collapse. Most things about day to day life haven't changed for these characters but somehow they're unmoored and searching, for love, for meaning, for resolution. At the heart of the book is Tanya's sweet and unlikely love for Yuri, who maybe knows, and maybe just needs a little persuasion, that she's really the girl for him. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to root for her dreams to come true.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.