From Publishers Weekly
Against the backdrop of the failed August 1991 putsch that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and to the ascendency of Boris Yeltsin's Russian Republic, Merullo skillfully explores the lives of ordinary people caught in a dramatic transference of power. Two weeks before the attempted coup, middle-aged American diplomat Anton Czesich flies to the provincial city of Yostok to coordinate a Western hunger relief program. Jaded and cynical about politics, Czesich remains a hopeless romantic when it comes to personal honor; he ignores embassy directives to put the project on hold because of the unstable political situation and hooks up with his Russian counterpart in the relief effort, Sergei Propenko, who is unaware of the change in the U.S. position. The narrative segues between the men's troubled personal lives and political reality; they are tested by a riot over food distribution and an attack by Communist hardliners on Propenko's reform-minded daughter. While the novel never quite captures the excitement and turbulence of the stormy days that ended Soviet power (or the delightful quirkiness of Merullo's first book, Leaving Losapas ), it is smoothly written and multifaceted, solidly depicting the isolation and poverty of a city far removed from Moscow and insightfully exploring the psyches of individuals caught in the conflicts between their ideals and their careers.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
After his lyrical literary debut (Leaving Losapas, 1991), Merullo ventures into more commercial territory--in a highbrow thriller set during Russia's 1991 ``undeclared civil war.'' Based on an intimate knowledge of the Soviet Union, Merullo's timely and intriguing narrative juxtaposes the careers of two bureaucrats--both decent, ordinary men who find themselves acting heroically after years of mistakes and compromises. Approaching 50, Anton Czesich, an American descended partly from Russian immigrants, has followed a safe course as a diplomat in the information services. But his personal life's a mess--a failed marriage, and a gay son who hates him. His latest assignment (to oversee food-relief efforts in the ``Stalinist backwater'' of Vostok) reunites him with his former lover, a fellow diplomat stationed in Moscow. But the State Department, afraid of becoming too embroiled in Russia's internal affairs, throws a wrench into the works and postpones the food delivery. Czesich takes things into his own hands, hoping to bring off ``the command performance in a career of consummate bullshitting.'' In Vostok without authorization, Czesich eventually joins with Sergei Propenko, a midlevel Party functionary who's being used as a pawn between Moscow's Yeltsinites and local Party loyalists, who are disgusted with the notion of US aid. Where Czesich hopes to fulfill some vague 60's-ish pledge to change the world, Propenko acts bravely to restore himself in his family's eyes. His daughter, Lydia, is a follower of the radical priest Father Alexei, who leads local strikes against the Party. Things play themselves out with intensity and credibility, culminating in an act of stunning heroism. A moving novel--with great cinematic potential--that brilliantly captures the historically tense moment of Russia on the verge of freedom, just before the attempted coup and the Party's last gasps. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.