Sasha Goldberg is the ultimate outsider: she's a chubby, biracial Jewish girl from the Siberian town of Asbestos 2. Her father takes off for the Unites States, and leaves Sasha to navigate adolescence in a bleak apartment block with her overbearing mother. Following her heart gets her into trouble at home, so she flees Russia as a mail-order bride and lands in suburban Arizona. Then, Sasha abandons her fiance and embarks on a misadventure-filled journey across American in search of her father (from back of book).As per usual, Petropolis was a totally random find for me in the library. I never heard about it, had no expectations, and was hoping for the best. Having finished it this morning, I can say one thing without a doubt: it was a unique book. But, for some reason, I didn't connect with it in the least!
The plot of the book wasn't terrible, but it doesn't stick out in my mind for any reason - good or bad. It's pretty much the standard finding-yourself-as-a-teen story, but with a slight twist; Sasha had a daughter at fifteen, immigrated from Russia a few years later, and had to fend for herself in America. Despite Sasha's endless adventures in this new country, not a lot happened during the 300+ pages. She moved from house to house, lover to lover, but when I think of the story in my mind, all that comes up is a bleak, blurry recollection of what actually occurred. It all merged together. Nothing stood out to me.
One thing that really impressed me was the large cast of solid, believable characters. While I didn't find Sasha to be the strongest in the novel, her mother, father, and other people we came across are characters I will likely never forget. They were interesting, scary, harsh, gentle, and so many other things. In this aspect, Petropolis delivered!
Ulinich's writing had its glorious moments, but also its downfalls. During some scenes, the words she used to describe certain things, and the comparisons she made, were truly great. But at other times I rushed through paragraphs, breezed through sections, and didn't get immersed at all. It did feel like a new reading experience, though, and I'm not quite sure why. Being a Russian immigrant herself, I'm sure Ulinich's experiences helped to create an authentic point of view. This came across in her writing at certain points, and it was really special.
Recommendation: Although I didn't personally connect with Petropolis, it's worth a read if you don't crave action on every page. The characters were great and the writing had its strong points, so it was a unique experience for sure!