The Orchard

Ballantine. Mar. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780593356012. $28. F
DEBUTRussian Armenian émigré Gorcheva-Newberry follows the award-winning story collection What Isn’t Remembered with a debut novel patterned after Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Anya and her best friend Milka attend the same school and spend idyllic summers at the country dacha given to Anya’s family via land redistribution by the Communist government. The family planted a small orchard of apple trees there, and the girls enjoy swimming, exploring, doing chores, and just being children. But though they are inseparable, Milka has a troubling secret at home that she refuses to share. As teens, the girls test the limits of their freedom, experimenting with new ideas and activities as they question their elders and their way of life. They acquire boyfriends, attend parties, and ponder what little they know about the world beyond their country. After high school, they remain fiercely loyal to each other, and when Milka gets pregnant, Anya intervenes to help and changes her own life forever. Returning years later from America, she discovers something shocking about her beloved dacha.
VERDICT As Gorcheva-Newberry deftly demonstrates, coming of age is a universally difficult time, requiring hard choices and both self-assessment and reassessment of the world. Recommended for most fiction readers.
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