I really wanted to like this book. Really wanted to. I heard an interview with the author last year, and she seemed lovely, and certainly her personal story of love and loss was beautiful and compelling. And I am still crazy in love with the cover art (ETA: not the cover shown here, but the cover on a different edition, which I don't think I can trade for the one displayed). But the book itself let me down.
The narrative voice is a cross between a new ESL speaker and, I thought at first, an imaginative child who views his life with such great expectations that it must be described as though by an omniscient narrator. Simple sentence structure, present tense, using names instead of pronouns… Interesting at first, as all the POV’s are those of Russian immigrants, but it also wears thin quickly and fails to mature or evolve with the characters. Maybe an intriguing device for a short story; I just couldn’t buy it for an entire novel.
If anything at all happened in this book, I would have gotten past narrative style. But very little happens to justify 300 pages, and I didn’t feel very connected to the characters. I kind of liked Rasia, Vaclav’s mother, but she was ultimately peripheral to Vaclav and Lena, and I didn’t much care for either of them, especially once they were older. Still, I was prepared to give this book a solid two stars (“it was ok”) until the last two chapters. I reread the last four sentences this morning and thought, “I do see what you’re doing there, and the idea is nice,” but the denouement just really left me cold and a little disgusted, intellectually and emotionally. This is my guiltiest-feeling rating to date, but I just have to say, in the end, I “didn’t like it.” If my memory of the book isn’t so sour in a couple months, maybe I’ll upgrade to "ok". But not now.