I just finished reading my second Tournament of Books 2019 book, the play-in contestant “A Terrible Country“. It’s up against “Speak No Evil“, which I’ve already read and was excellent, and “America is Not the Heart,” which I’m about to start reading. I’ll comment which of these three needs to win this round once I finish reading “America is Not the Heart,” but I can already tell that it is going to be a very hard decision, and I don’t envy the judges.
It’s very rare to find a book that is so stylistically innovative, and yet so readable, so familiar that it’s kind of like an out of body experience to read it. This novel is a work of fiction that reads entirely like a memoir/travelogue written by the main character Andrie. It’s so convincingly well done that several times I checked the author’s name and the book description to make sure that it was a work of fiction that I was reading.
This feat of technical mastery is entirely at the service of a moving and relatable plot, wherein a young American man, completely out of depth, tries to take care of his 89 year old grandmother in Putin’s Russia circa 2008. It’s the heroics of everyday life, with its triumphs and tragedies, enmeshed in memories of the Soviet past, great Russian literature, and the dangers of living in such a terrible country, and it is well worth the read.