by Ilana Stanger

Black Russian

Unlikely Heroine Sasha Goldberg Goes From Siberia To Self-Sufficiency

Anya Ulinich’s debut novel, Petropolis (Viking, $24.95) takes its title from an Osip Mandelstam poem mourning the fall of Petrograd: “O, if you are a star, Petropolis, your city… is dying.” Sasha Goldberg, an awkward teenager with two major strikes against her in pre- Perestroika Russian society — she is both black and Jewish — struggles to survive her own dying city. Raised in Asbestos 2, a bleak Siberian mining town, Goldberg spends her childhood under the disappointed gaze of her mother, Lubov, a striking and intelligent woman with no outlet for her ambition. Ulinich’s descriptions of Asbestos 2 are tragically beautiful: “On clear nights,” she writes, describing the network of footprints that freeze over each evening, “silver threads connected the school to the liquor store, the liquor store to the asbestos pit, the pit to the morgue, and the morgue to the Conversation Point [a long-distance calling station], drawing a predictable diagram of daily life in a place unsuitable for living.”

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