I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know much about Russia’s history and the Soviet Union. I never engaged well in History at school and I can’t really remember much of it… I dropped it when I was 14 to pursue more creative subjects. Over the past few years I’ve developed a real interest in history though, and now I’m starting to learn about these key moments from the world’s past. Historical fiction in particular is one of my favourite ways to do so.
Forget Russia is a story born from the difficult ways of the Soviet Union and then the Cold War. Given my lack of knowledge I knew I just had to read it, hoping for an illuminating learning experience as well as a wonderful piece of fiction.
***AD: This post features press samples but all thoughts are my own***
” “Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her. In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life. With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.”
(Taken from Goodreads)
I can tell you now that Forget Russia is a true experience of a book. I wanted to learn more about the Soviet Union and that is exactly what I got – a story that transported me there. Through rich description and immersive situations, Bordetsky-Williams’ writing really does paint a vividly bleak and harrowing picture of those times. Some books make visualising their environments so easy, and this is one of those books.
Interestingly, the book very much reads like a memoir, despite being fiction. It just feels so real. Anna, Iosif, Sarah, and so on are fictional characters, yet I felt connected with real history as I read their stories. There is so much detail and raw emotion, capturing perfectly the distress and terror of the times. This is the same for the chapters detailing Anna’s experiences… I truly felt like I was there.
Something the author does really well is weave the two separate timelines together. They’re crafted well, using each other to tease out more information as the story progresses. Both were fascinating and easy to connect with, and couldn’t wait to see how they linked up. I was so invested in the plot – Bordetsky-Williams uses the secretiveness of both time periods to her advantage, drip-feeding information in a somewhat uncertain way to keep you hooked. I thought it would take a while to read given the nature of the story, but I completed it within just a few days.
The story itself was harrowing. Sarah’s melancholy really captured me as she returns to the land where everything went wrong for her. I really felt for her. There’s something so very poignant about seeing her story through her granddaughter’s eyes. Anna is a relatable and intriguing main character and her own experiences of Russia are just as interesting as those from her family’s past. I also found Iosif an interesting character – his sometimes unexpected perspectives gave me a lot to think about.
I felt that the author conveyed the dishonesty and false hope from the Soviet Union era particularly well. It was so painful to see well-meaning characters so emblazoned by the new Communist society they were devoting their lives to whilst living so poorly, knowing full well that it was all a lie. In the Cold War writings, the secrecy and distrust from those experiences are stark. I hadn’t given too much thought to how the collapse of the Soviet Union would have changed Russia’s society going forward (at least not so much at ground-level), but from reading this my eyes feel well and truly opened.
Forget Russia is the sort of novel that really gets under your skin. It’s why I love the title so much – it has its own meaning within the story, however it’s also somewhat paradoxical as, now I’ve read it, I won’t be forgetting all that history anytime soon. It’s a fascinating account of Russia’s past… Difficult and unsettling at the best of times, but it has left me feeling enriched. I strongly recommend Forget Russia for history lovers, and I’m now determined to learn more about the subject.
If you’d like to purchase your own copy of Forget Russia then you can do so using the following links:
“L. BORDETSKY-WILLIAMS is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press in December 2020. She has also published The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005); and three poetry chapbooks—The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018). In 1980, she studied in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute. She is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.”
(Taken from Goodreads)
Have you read any historical fiction about Russia’s past? What are the best books about the era that you have read? Comment below, and don’t forget to like and pin if you enjoyed this review! You can read some other historical fiction reviews here: