Fic­tion

The Patri­ots

  • Review
By – November 30, 2016

What does it mean to be a patri­ot? A Sovi­et? An Amer­i­can? A Jew? In her debut nov­el, The Patri­ots, Sana Krasikov asks these ques­tions over the course of three gen­er­a­tions of migra­tion, mis­al­liance, and memory.

The Patri­ots opens with Flo­rence Fein, a young Brook­lynite strug­gling to find mean­ing and inde­pen­dence dur­ing the Great Depres­sion. A short-lived rela­tion­ship with a for­eign engi­neer, Sergey, and a shaky scaf­fold­ing of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary fer­vor pro­pel her to Rus­sia. Arriv­ing in a rather dif­fer­ent social­ist real­i­ty than the one of which she dreamed, Flo­rence choos­es — moti­vat­ed by shame, and per­haps also by a desire to vin­di­cate her ide­al­ism — to remain. She makes do with a trans­la­tion job, and set­tles down with a bright-eyed opti­mist from the Low­er East Side, Leon Brink. Soon, how­ev­er, stay­ing in the Sovi­et Union becomes no longer option­al but manda­to­ry, as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens are stripped of their priv­i­leges and pass­ports. Florence’s world — and that of her clos­est friends and fam­i­ly in her new home — unrav­els as the Sovi­et state tight­ens its death grip.

A gen­er­a­tion lat­er, Florence’s son Julian emi­grates to Amer­i­ca, escap­ing Sovi­et Jew­ish quo­tas and shut doors. His son Lenny returns as an adult, a cow­boy on the fron­tiers of pri­vate enter­prise,” seek­ing finan­cial oppor­tu­ni­ty and some­thing more. As Julian tries to extract Lenny dur­ing a busi­ness trip, he, too, becomes trapped in a cor­rupt crony scheme and an attempt to retrieve archival inter­ro­ga­tion papers from his mother’s arrest. Krasikov adept­ly tells these com­pli­cat­ed sto­ries of a fam­i­ly and a coun­try in par­al­lel, invit­ing the read­er to under­stand the devel­op­ment (or stub­born iner­tia) of the char­ac­ters through deci­sions of trust, decep­tion, loy­al­ty, and survival.

For­mi­da­ble in weight and length, this epic is a mas­sive the­o­ret­i­cal and lit­er­ary under­tak­ing for Krasikov. One More Year, Krasikov’s 2008 short sto­ry collection,revolves around the expe­ri­ences of Sovi­et immi­grants, but the impact of the Sovi­et system’s impact is revealed in per­son­al psy­choses, ges­tures, and remarks. In The Patri­ots, how­ev­er, Krasikov is wild­ly, brave­ly ambi­tious in recon­struct­ing the insti­tu­tions — NKDV, For­eign Cur­ren­cy Office, OVIR, Sov­In­form­Buro — of the Sovi­et and post-Sovi­et state and explor­ing their inter­ac­tions with­in pri­vate lives. Diplo­mat­ic episodes — such as the aban­don­ment of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in Rus­sia — are relat­ed in a man­ner painstak­ing­ly his­toric, sar­cas­tic, and poet­ic. The world of 2008 (and lat­er) leaks in, with men­tions of lit­tle Bush,” MEMO­R­I­AL (a Moscow-based civ­il rights soci­ety), and the acknowl­edged truth that in Putin’s Rus­sia, it’s a few years of so-called free­dom and they turn the screw tight again.”

The Patri­ots is a nov­el of a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that threat­ens to catch up with the con­tem­po­rary real­i­ty. Krasikov has com­posed a work of beau­ti­ful prose, sharp psy­cho­log­i­cal insight, and a great sen­si­tiv­i­ty for the nuances of nation­al iden­ti­ty in migra­tion. Now more than ever, it is a cru­cial read.

Dalia Wolf­son is study­ing Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture — with a focus on Russ­ian and Judeo-lan­guage lit­er­a­tures — at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania.

Discussion Questions