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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113010
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ulinich's debut novel traces Russian-Jewish Sasha Goldberg's screwball coming-of-age and search for her long-ago disappeared father. Sasha, living with her mother, Lubov, in the gloomy Siberian town of Asbestos 2, is a disappointment to Lubov. Not musically inclined and is too chubby for ballet, Sasha is a messy, uncoordinated child with a passion for drawing. After Sasha is accepted into a local, cash-strapped art school, she becomes pregnant and has a daughter, Nadia. Though Sasha wants to raise Nadia, Lubov forces Sasha to attend an art school in Moscow and leave Nadia behind with her. Once in Moscow, Sasha begins scheming her way to America—where she believes her father lives—and soon is on a plane to Phoenix, Ariz., as a 17-year-old mail-order bride. Sasha flees after a year to Chicago, where she works as a live-in maid for the wealthy Tarakan family, though she is little more than the family's "pet Soviet Jew." Sasha's salvation lies in Jake Tarakan, the Tarakan's wheelchair-bound 18-year-old son, who helps Sasha locate her father. Though Sasha's mental letters home and some timeline hiccups work against the momentum, cultural assimilation humor is the order of the day, and Ulinich provides it by the bucketful. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* When a coming-of-age novel is truly different, it can send shock waves through unsuspecting readers. This brave blend of satire, farce, and heart-wrenching realism delivers the necessary voltage to do just that. First-novelist Ulinich sets out as if she intends to lampoon the whole idea of coming-of-age. Teenager Sasha Goldberg, a pudgy parody of the archetypal outsider, is a mixed-race Russian Jew living with her mother in a mining camp called Asbestos 2, once a Stalinist model town but now a postglasnost embarrassment. When your entire universe, internal and external, needs escaping from, the very notion of escape becomes a bad joke. So it is for Sasha ("For a Jew, you sure look like a Negro," one of her friends tells her), whose every attempt at escape leads to an even more absurd reality than the one she left behind. A furtive romance results in pregnancy, but when her mother usurps the baby, Sasha decamps to America as a mail-order bride, landing in Arizona with an old-school husband whose Crown Victoria "is as long as Sasha Goldberg's whole life." From there it's off to Chicago, where, as the "pet Soviet Jew" of a rich Orthodox couple, Sasha trades one kind of servitude for another. One more escape lands our heroine in Brooklyn, in search of her father, who abandoned the family when she was an infant. Ulinich plays this absurdist immigrant's journey for all its black-comedic potential, but she never loses sight of Sasha's bedrock humanity. Her triumphs are attenuated at every turn by lingering levels of despair, but her ability to find a pulse of life in even the most outrageous turns of fortune lifts the novel as far beyond parody as it is beyond convention. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Sasha's character is very well developed.
Leonard Fleisig
I found myself missing Sasha Goldberg when I had finished the book, and wanted to read more about her!
Marta F.
The plot sounds like it will be only a satirical farce, but it is much deeper than that.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Iva on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is great! It is beautifully written and the plot moves right along, sucking you in and never letting go. While I wouldn't call Petropolis a comedy--the book is filled with serious subjects such as longing for one's parents, child, and home--it is certainly a very funny book, with many moments of side-splitting laughing-out-loud humor. And it's filled with wit and satire that is as precise and almost surgical as the rest of the book's language.

The book's plot takes you to five major cities (and a few smaller ones) on two continents while following the main character on her journey from Siberia to the United States. You would think there's too much plot to fit in one novel, yet the book doesn't feel like it's bursting at the seams. You really get to know the characters and the places, to the point where if you've never been to Russia, you really get a feeling for the place, the pace of life there, etc (and if you've never been to the US, you do for it as well.)
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nataliya Matushevskaya on March 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover

I just finished Petropolis.

I think this is the first book that I've read so far that truly captures the post- soviet childhood /immigration/ Russian Jewish/ experience. I think all of us have some interesting "Russian Immigrant" stories, but this is the first work that truly describes what it was like in the end, when there was no more ideology and everything was in decay.

I think I was mostly impressed with how well you summed up perceptions --- the way philanthropic Americans see Jewish refugees, how some Russians play up to the stereotype, how the intelligentsia view themselves, the type of life that a Russian "solider" has, the family bond (or a lack-there-of), the acceptance of prejudice, the way a Russian immigrant sees an American, the hopelessness that sometimes sets in (especially due to culture shock) etc etc.

I immigrated when I was fairly young, but for some reason I perfectly remember our Kiev communal apartment, our loving yet constantly drunk neighbors, and my art class at the local Pioneers Club with all of my brutally totalitarian, yet excellent teachers.

I also remember how haggled my parents looked after the flight from Sheremetivo II to NY, how polite my dad was when a Rabbi from a local Yeshiva forced my dad to recite "Shema" in Hebrew (my dad is Orthodox Christian), and how much we all struggled with the language, mannerisms and constant American optimism (be it fake or real).

Overall Petropolis is a realistic account of what it's like....

I would love to find a Russian translation to give to my parents.

Thank you for writing this.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
your brother, Petropolis, is dying." Osip Mandelstam

It is more than a bit ironic that some of the best "Russian" literature created in recent years has been written in English. The Diaspora that followed the fall of the Soviet Union has borne a great deal of literary fruit produced by writers such as Gary Shteyngart (Absurdistan), Lara Vapnyar (Memoirs of a Muse), and Olga Grushin (Dream Life of Sukhanov). The original, entertaining "Petropolis" by first-time novelist Anya Ulinich is a fine addition to this body of work.

"Petropolis" (the title is taken from a poem by Osip Mandelstam) tells the story of Sasha Goldberg. An adolescent, Sasha is young, overweight, ungainly, and part-black and Jewish in a world in which just one of those attributes is enough to mark you as an outsider. We first meet Sasha in her Siberian hometown, Asbestos2. Asbestos2, as the name suggests, is a city created during Stalin's reign in power to support the mining of asbestos. The fall of the USSR and the depletion of the mine have turned Asbestos2 into a bleak, post-apocalyptic city rapidly on its way to becoming a ghost-town. Sasha's father left the family for the United States when she was an infant.

Petropolis is the story of a journey, or series of journeys, something of a later-day Russian Ulysses. It takes Sasha from Asbestos2 to Moscow, from Moscow to Phoenix (where she is to be a mail order bride), from Phoenix to Michigan, and from Michigan to Brooklyn where she finds the father who deserted her as a child. The story also takes us back to Asbestos2 where Sasha's journey finds some sense of closure and reunites her with the child she left behind (like father like daughter) along the way.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Borat Sagdiyev on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Petropolis is a must read, especially if your family didn't arrive in the US on the Mayflower. Come to think of it, it's a must read even if they did.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carol A. Sym on June 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Petropolis by Anya Ulinich is one of those books that just does not fit the mold. It is an entity unto itself in a class of satire that is funny, achingly sad and ultimately satisfying. The main character,Sasha,is a misfit from a decaying town in Siberia . The novel is the story of her struggle to fit in, the angst of maternal domination,the need for love,the heartache of first love and the search for a new start and assimilation into a new culture and life. The ups and downs of Sasha's journey to find her father and ultimately find herself is a great experience for the reader. Anyone who has ever felt different....who has been on the outside looking in, who has floundered finding their way .........will relate to Sasha and Petropolis.
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