At the End of the World, Turn Left

Zhan­na Slor

  • Review
By – September 27, 2021

Part mys­tery, part fam­i­ly dra­ma, Zhan­na Slor’s At the End of the World, Turn Left is a thought­ful exam­i­na­tion of how we car­ry our his­to­ry with us.

The nov­el focus­es on two sis­ters, Masha and Anna. Masha, who is in her mid-twen­ties, has returned home to Mil­wau­kee from Israel at the behest of her father to look for Anna, who has dis­ap­peared. Masha escaped her home coun­try in the hopes of forg­ing her own path abroad. To tell the sto­ry, Slor bounces back and forth in time, weav­ing togeth­er Anna and Masha’s first-per­son nar­ra­tives. Though the sis­ters share some sim­i­lar­i­ties, Slor gives them both a unique voice and per­son­al­i­ty. Masha is tough, untrust­ing, and smart, and she loves to play with lan­guage. Anna is more care­free, artis­tic, and inno­cent, though she has a strength that Slor care­ful­ly unveils through­out the nov­el — and that read­ers will come to admire.

As Masha search­es for Anna, the read­er is intro­duced to River­west, an eclec­tic but semi-dan­ger­ous neigh­bor­hood of Mil­wau­kee full of artists and musi­cians.” Quick­ly, Masha finds her­self pulled between the Israeli world she came from, with a sta­ble part­ner and a deep reli­gious prac­tice, and the world she gave up, with its past loves, edgy drug cul­ture, and immi­grant par­ents and grandparents.

The cen­tral mys­tery of the book, besides Anna’s fate, relates to a stranger from the Old World who mes­sages Anna on MySpace (anoth­er rel­ic from a for­got­ten past) with a secret. She claims to be the half-sis­ter of Anna and Masha and wants Anna to con­vince her father to take a pater­ni­ty test to prove it. For most of the nov­el, Slor keeps us in sus­pense about what Anna will do with this infor­ma­tion, and read­ers are left to guess whether this rev­e­la­tion is indeed the rea­son for her disappearance.

Slor uses the sto­ry of Masha and Anna’s pos­si­ble half-sis­ter to explore the com­pli­cat­ed lega­cy of immi­gra­tion. In one mov­ing scene, Anna express­es a desire to go back to the Ukraine, only to be met with dis­may from her grand­par­ents. The old­er gen­er­a­tion wants a clean break from their past, where­as Masha, and espe­cial­ly Anna — who came over as a baby from the Sovi­et Union — want to uncov­er what they left behind when they migrated.

Just when the read­ers think they know what has hap­pened to Anna, or how Masha will deal with it, Slor has anoth­er rev­e­la­tion around the cor­ner. Few nov­els can be sus­pense­ful, fun­ny, and thought-pro­vok­ing all at once, but Slor’s has all of these qual­i­ties and more. Par­tic­u­lar­ly as a debut work, At the End of the World, Turn Left is a feat.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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