Svyatoslav Semyonovich, an elderly and well-rounded professor of American and Russian literature, mulls over his life, which he feels he couldn’t get it right somehow. During his present-day difficulties the only person he can really relate to is his pregnant daughter-in-law who is a kleptomaniac.
The professor has married three times and his first wife Lyuba, whom he calls Rachel for the Biblical Rachel, still has an emotional hold on him. His memories ebb and flow through his life, as a Jewish teen at the onset of the Cold War, through his marriages in which the three wives appear as if they are omnipresent, in a job as a workman in a psychiatric hospital because of his undying love for Lyuba who was hospitalized there, then running off to Kiev with a patient, and to protect his daughter-in-law, his stint with a KGB man, until Yeltsin’s coming to power.
Svyatoslav Semyonovich, although his own eccentric life disappoints him, seems to enjoy the others’ experiences greatly. He is sarcastic about his own self and mocks himself greatly, but his views have great psychological depth and his words startle the reader through sudden and profound epiphanies, as he attempts to look at his own life as if a text.
Although the story starts during the time of the professor’s old age with his daughter-in-law taking care of him and keeping him company, it dips back and forth through the several different stages and decades, and at times, its frequent back and forth motion surprised and at times stunned this reader as if a jolt.
I recommend this book to readers who love world literature because I found it to be quite different and somewhat eccentric than any book I have read recently. I also think, reading this book can give us a tiny peephole into the present-day Russian literature.