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Red Weather: A Novel Paperback – February 27, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030733676X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307336767
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,291,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We Latvians are a small nation, but oh, we are a proud people! We are a nation beaten and battered by many wars over many hundreds, even thousands of years, but our culture and life sense still thrive: the Latvian language is one of the oldest in existence today, still actively used. Perhaps that is our greatest source of pride, then: we are survivors.

When Pauls Toutonghi's new novel, Red Weather, came upon the literary scene, I was greatly pleased. I've been an avid reader in both languages - Latvian and English - since earliest childhood, but however many good books I read about the war and later experiences of Latvians immigrating to other countries and cultures, it was rare to come across a worthy tome in English. History books, yes, but far more rare, a good attention-grabbing novel that I could proudly share with non-Latvian friends.

Now, here's Pauls. With one Latvian parent, it is my understanding he has grown up in the Milwaukee area, active in the Latvian community and, having visited Latvia, is well-acquainted, one would suppose, with the culture and something of the nation's history. For these reasons, I read the novel with high expectation and excitement.

Pauls' writing abilities do not disappoint. Still quite young, he has already accrued an impressive publishing history, and has won the Pushcart Prize. His descriptions are lively, his storyline pulls us along, his sense of humor is intact.

And yet. The further I read, the more I realized, no, this was not going to be the book that I would pass on to Latvians I know, or to non-Latvians I'd like to invite a little more intimately into my multi-cultural world.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I bought this because I enjoyed the author's book Evel Knievel Days. I connected a little more to Evel Kneivel Days, but in so many ways this is a father/son book and a good one. Yuri is smart and funny and seeking to find his identity as a Latvian living in Milwaukee. Toutonghi is a smart writer and makes me care about his characters which is very important. Definitely enjoyed it.
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Format: Paperback
Two unusual elements take front and center stage in this novel: Latvian culture and the city of Milwaukee, both woefully underrepresented in todays literature. Red Weather is a welcome treat and introduction to both.

What perhaps makes it all the more unusual is that our first-generation Latvian-American teenage hero, Yuri, actually desires to learn of his parents' language and culture. It is they that put the kibosh on this,a not-so-unusual phenom among new emigres. Yuri finds himself attracted to an odd-shaped Latvian book his parents had (which proves to be a major identifier for him later on in the story). He feels that "My parents had kept me from participating in my cultural identity as much as possible" yet "In some ways I envied my Dad's separation from the larger part of American life. He lived within certain limits...it was simple." Furthermore, Uncle Ivan remarks that young Rigans today want to speak Latvian, learn Latvian customs and fly the Latvian flag.

I can so readily identify with Yuri when he compares himself to his cousin Eriks and feels "culturally impoverished."

The Wallace Stevens poems at the beginning of each new phase in the story add nothing, though, to the content of the book.

I loved to see Yuri's father's reaction to the pampered, surreal, safe, suburban "communists" at Marquette et al...talk about reality meeting idealism! Wish there'd been more discussion between Hannah and Erik's disagreement on socialism!

Riga earns frequent mention in RW, another Westernly neglected city.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up this novel after reading favorable reviews. I truly enjoyed the first 50 pages of this book. Having grown up in the Milwaukee area in the 1980's, I recognized my home town in the novel. I enjoyed the characters in Yuri's life such as his parents and his cousins. He describes his family life with such humorous honesty. I really enjoyed the way he met Hannah and became seduced by her socialist perspective. I was looking forward to getting to know her better. I thought he had the makings of a great plot as Hannah's socialist ideals would conflict with his parents' experience of the U.S.S.R.

And then ...

I thought this novel got lost in a bunch of plot twists designed to entertain the reader more accustomed to the standard movie thriller. Towards the end of the book the action is fast and furious. All this action obscures the richness of the characters. Hannah, for example, never emerges beyond the Communist caricature. We never learn why she is attending an inner city high school even though she lives in a posh suburb. So many plot turns prevent us from learning much about Yuri's family - such as his mother, his uncle, his uncle's wife and his cousin.

I put down this novel worrying about how the success of the da Vinci code is influencing the new generation of American writers. Must every novel have a simple screen play that will appeal to some Hollywood producer? Must every rich story include car chases, car crashes and people jumping off balconies? I get the sense the Pauls Toutonghi could have written a much better book, but he perceives the need to "dumb-down" his story for his audience.
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