Something Unbelievable

Random. Apr. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780525511908. $27. F
Thirtysomething Natasha struggles with exhaustion and boredom at home with a new baby in New York City, feeling alienated from her formerly glamorous and slightly louche life as an actress/bartender. To engage her, Natasha’s world-weary 90-year-old Russian grandmother, Larissa, agrees to tell her beloved American granddaughter the story of her own complicated, unhappy family and their survival during World War II. (They talk via Skype.) Along with her parents and her self-absorbed sister and grandmother, Larissa had been forced to relocate to freezing Siberia, where her engineer father worked on weapons for the war effort and the family nearly starved to death. Certain plot points of the family saga, like Larissa’s feelings for the two brothers next door, mirror elements of the Russian novels loved by the protagonists. Kuznetsova (Oksana, Behave!) alternates Larissa’s story with Natasha’s; both women have distinctive points of view. The same tension between the practical and the artistic temperament runs through the generations, and Natasha seems to be repeating some of the life choices made by her grandmother, for better or worse.
VERDICT A moving intergenerational story with an unforgettable wartime narrative steeped in literature.
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