From Publishers Weekly
Toutonghi's tragicomic debut novel paints a loving, cockeyed picture of the Soviet immigrant experience in the twilight of the Cold War. Yuri Balodis, a painfully thin, bookish 15-year-old living in Milwaukee with his parents, narrates with adolescent angst tempered by retrospective wisdom. Proud to have escaped Soviet Latvia under trying circumstances, Yuri's mother and father (who works as a janitor) have embraced America, choosing to speak only their own idiosyncratic brand of English and decorating their small apartment with glossy magazine ads. In 1989, Yuri watches the fall of the Berlin Wall on television, plays host to Latvian relatives who may or may not be seeking asylum, and dabbles in socialism, an interest derived mostly from his passion for wild-haired Hannah Graham, a Socialist Worker vendor. Yuri's patriotic parents, particularly his hard-drinking father, Rudolfi, are outraged by Yuri's espousal of Marxist rhetoric, a blatant form of teenage rebellion. Oblivious to everything except his own obsession with Hannah, Yuri fails to recognize his father's love, and the implications of his own recklessness, until it's almost too late. Toutonghi's carefully observed character details, evocation of working-class Milwaukee and tales of the old country effectively walk the line between realism and absurdity. (May)
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It's 1989 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Yuri Balodis, the shy son of Latvian immigrants, leads a quiet existence, experiencing the world through books. But a desire to do something, anything--and a chance encounter with pretty student Hannah Graham--leads him to join a newspaper-selling socialist group led by Hannah's father. The Grahams are privileged people for whom socialism is a theory. Yuri's parents fled Latvia in a shipping container full of hogs after suffering under communism. Yuri isn't sure what he believes in. But in a few short weeks, he falls in love, meets long-lost family, and commits an impulsive act that will have echoing repercussions, learning a lot in the process. Pushcart Prize winner Toutonghi (himself the Latvian-Egyptian son of immigrants) writes with an assured hand and a quirky, wry sense of humor. Yuri and his small family--especially Yuri's alcoholic, country-and-western-loving father--are memorable and lovingly drawn. The ending goes on too long, and a late, surprising sexual awakening feels unnecessary, but this is a first novel of uncommon poise and power. Keir Graff
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