“I mourned now because when she had been alive I had not understood her. To the end she frustrated my understanding, defied it with her own silences, her suppressions and elisions. Not about her past in the camps, per se… No what I blamed her for was another kind of silence. What I could not abide was her unwillingness to condemn the very system that had destroyed our family… Only now did I allow myself to consider the alternate explanation: that her muteness was not the submissiveness of a slave but the silence of an accessory.” Julian Brink
Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots (Spiegel & Grau, 2017) is a tremendous piece of historical fiction that covers both the breath of mid to late 20th century history from Brooklyn to Moscow to Siberia and back; the depths of human love, betrayal, idealism, despair, and hope, and ties these two threads together in an unforgettable way through the life and choices of Florence Fein, an American who goes to Russia in 1934 and who embraces the socialist vision of Russian society but at a great cost to her and her family.
It has been a while since I have encountered a character as complex as Fein. But this complexity (which is really in all of us) is woven together by Krasikov’s ability to evoke both sympathy and disgust for Fein throughout the novel. For example, we can sympathize with Florence as she is relentlessly interviewed by NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) officers and feel the tension within Fein as she attempts to walk a fine line between betrayal of friends to satisfy the state police and her desire to stay free and even return to the US. Equally, we can be disgusted with her work on a captured American pilot shot down during the Korean War in a way that keeps her from returning to the labor camp she had been sent to for crimes against the people while trying to turn him.
Written in a wonderfully engaging alternating narrative style between the past and the recent present, between pre-cold war, cold war, and post-cold war Russia and America, The Patriots is a work of fiction that chronicles not just human life in a particular place and time but in all of place and time. It is a novel which brings out the complexity of humankind and the challenges in making choices the consequences of which are not clearly known until later, if known at all.
I liked this novel for its characters, its complexity of both character and plot, and a richness that Krasikov weaves together in a way that I have not read in a while.
A great novel for classes studying 20th century Russian, American, and even world history as well as for contemporary fiction.
I gave this novel a 5 Star rating on Goodreads.
Note: I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) from Amazon Vine in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.