Forget Russia, A Novel
by L. Bordetsky-Williams
296 Pages
Price: $14.00
ISBN: 978-1-7328480-4-7
Publisher: Tailwinds Press
To Order: Amazon

reviewed by Ellie Hawkes

First of all, I want to say a massive thank you to the author, who reached out via
my blog to see if I would be interested in reviewing her book. Lisa had taken the
time to read my blog, noticed my enthusiasm for Molly Gartland's wonderful debut
novel, The Girl From The Hermitage, and on the basis of that, thought that Forget
Russia might be my sort of book. It's so lovely to get review requests from people
who have carefully matched their book to my interests, and in this case, Lisa was
100% right! Forget Russia is exactly my type of book, and I am absolutely thrilled
to have had the privilege of reading it.

The analogy of Russian dolls is almost too easy, but I kind of want to use it, as
Bordetsky-Williams has created a structure that really does feel like a puzzle
being pieced together. The sense of the past rippling forward, pursuing the gener-
ations, is skilfully done: this novel is rich in echoes and resonance. In fact, it
reminded me a lot of Heidi James' brilliant novel The Sound Mirror, in the way that
it shows how trauma is passed down through generations. The focus is mostly on the
women: Anna's first person narrative follows her search for answers about her family
in Moscow in 1980, her attempts to understand the way in which the experiences of her
family have shaped her. The tragedy of her great-grandmother's rape and murder sets
in motion a chain of voices, and with a lovely sense of movement through both time
and space (journeys to and from America feature heavily in this novel), we are rocked
towards a deeply satisfying conclusion.

The novel is so well researched and so vividly imagined that it has the feel of a
documentary. This sense is bolstered by the use of letters, of snatches of poetry and
folk song lyrics, and the sectioning off of the story into subtitled chapters. Anna's
sections in particular have an almost journalistic quality, blurring the line between
fiction and memoir, and her observational skills and empathetic manner build up a won-
derfully detailed and realistic portrait of life in the Soviet Union. It is a setting
rich in secrecy, in mystery, and it marries with Anna's personal search for answers
beautifully. But Anna is not merely an observer—she faces her own traumas, her own
emotional entanglements, all of which add further layers to this complex, expertly
shaped story.

There is so much to admire in Forget Russia: it is a novel that is more than the sum
of its parts. It seems to take the genre of historical fiction and merge it with a
kind of journalistic sensibility, adding in a dose of family memoir and self-exploration,
so that while this may be fiction, it rings startlingly true. I love it when a book trans-
ports you to a time and place you know little about, and leaves you with a feeling of
greater understanding, and Bordetsky-Williams' novel delivers this sense in spades. Balan-
cing the sweeping and the specific with expert skill, the author takes us on a journey
that shines a light on a fascinating stretch of history, and on characters whose stories
deserve to be remembered. I highly recommend this book, and am so grateful to have had
the chance to read it.


Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]