… e book gnaws at one's memory. Amis tries to imagine history with the intimacy and specificity that the greatest historical novelists, including Tolstoy, have always presumed to seek for it. History is the element that Soviet citizens were encouraged to see themselves living in and moving through, always forward; it is the element from which Americans tend to see themselves, even now, as being exempt. For Amis's narrator, it is the swirl in which we swim and sink, a poison that lays waste to millions of lives and sullies even a kiss.
The Washington Post
A unnamed former gulag inmate in Amis's disappointing latest is now a rich, 84-year-old expatriate Russian taking a tour of the former gulags in 2004. The narrator chronicles his current and past experiences in a book-length letter to his American "stepdaughter," Venus. Wry remarks on contemporary Russia and the U.S. run up against gulag reminiscences, which tell of the years 1948 through 1956, when the narrator and his brother Lev suffered in the Norlag concentration camp. The letter contains another letter, from the dying Lev, dated 1982, which was the year Lev's son Artem died in Afghanistan. Lev's first wife-and the narrator's first love-was Zoya, a Jewish Russian beauty who by 1982 was an alcoholic married to a Soviet apparatchik. The narrator's own feeling of debasement, when, after Lev's death, he finally meets Zoya again in Norlag's conjugal cabin (the House of Meetings), is complicated to the point of impaction. Amis's trademark riffs are all too muffled in his obvious research. And Venus, the narrator's supposedly beloved stepdaughter, is such a negative space filled with trite clich s about affluent young Americans, and such irritating second guesses about her reactions, that it lends a distinctly bullying tone to the book. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The title of this latest from best-selling novelist Amis (Night Train) refers to a cabin in a Siberian slave-labor camp where, during the Stalin years, some of the state's prisoners could have conjugal visits. The text takes the form of a memoir written by an elderly and now prosperous camp survivor to his American stepdaughter, Venus, whose pampered and sheltered life stands in stark contrast to the appalling atrocities the old Russian has seen and sometimes participated in during the war and after. He scoffs at her idea of closure, saying that nobody ever gets over anything. Described as the story of a love triangle-the narrator and his brother, Lev, are both in love with a bold Jewish girl named Zoya-Amis's novel is more a parable about the crushing evils visited on the Russian people throughout the 20th century and still continuing today. Although Amis writes as brilliantly as ever, squeamish readers may find the graphic scenes of life in the gulag difficult to get through. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A novel that doesn't read like any other, ranking as this renowned British author's best. Inside the provocative, philosophical, acerbic Amis (Yellow Dog, 2003, etc.), there has long seemed to be a Russian novelist straining to break out. Here, then, is Amis's contemporary version of a classic Russian novel, with references to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy (as well as a totalitarian allegory along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm). Though not epic in length, the narrative sees World War II, its dictatorial aftermath and the distinctions between East and West, and good and evil, through the memory of an 86-year-old Russian whose life was transformed by his 14-year enslavement in the Gulag. He feels that he must make a pilgrimage to the camp, for it was there that he was reunited with his brother and learned that his brother had married the woman they both loved (or at least lusted after). As described by the narrator, this Jewish woman, Zoya, is so great a caricature of such sexual abundance that she seems the literary equivalent of Jessica Rabbit, though it's one of the narrator's peculiarities that he is more prone to objectifying rather than humanizing, and not only in his relationships with women. The first-person memoir (or confession) confirms Amis's mastery of tone and the ambiguities of character, as the narrator addresses his recollection to his thoroughly Westernized daughter, revealing secrets a father should never share. (It's telling that the narrator and his daughter both have ties to Chicago, which serves as a backdrop and is so strongly associated with Amis's literary mentor, Saul Bellow.) Though the novel never succumbs to overbearing polemics, it nevertheless provides asocio-cultural critique of the past six decades, as dehumanized violence and subverted desires threaten to crush the human spirit and the emergence of a "Fourth World" throws everything up for grabs. In the process, the novel sustains the narrative momentum of a mystery, though it seems that some mysteries can never be solved. The most compelling fiction from Amis in more than a decade. First printing of 40,000
“Vivid and scarifying. . . . The book gnaws at one’s memory. Amis tries to imagine history with the intimacy and specificity that the greatest historical novelists, including Tolstoy, have always presumed to seek for it.” —The Washington Post Book World“Arguably his most powerful book yet. . . . A[n] unrelenting and deeply affecting performance: A bullet train of a novel that barrels deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag and takes the reader along on an unnerving journey into one of history’s most harrowing chapters.” —The New York Times “House of Meetings reminds us of Dostoyevsky. . . . A whole dome of meanings, a specific emotional world–hunger, desire, disgust, rottenness–rises around us.” —The New Yorker“Very fine, very moving and easily Amis’ most accessible fiction since The Information.”—The Seattle Times