A Train to Moscow
Lake Union 2022
Elena Gorokhova, author of two memoirs on her life under Soviet rule and her subsequent migration to the United States, again reflects on her past in a new novel, “A Train to Moscow.” In weaving her story, she fabricates an intricate plot that spans the lives of several generations. Her fiction is also written in a form of a memoir. The main character, Sasha, begins her story as child living in the small village of Ivanovo. It’s the era of Stalin’s regime, where she lives with her stern grandfather who basks in the glow of the Bolsheviks coming into power in 1917; her mother, a surgeon, and her grandmother, who dreamt of becoming an opera star. The dramatic plot centers around Sasha’s discovery of her uncle’s journals relating World War II horrors and Stalin’s purges after the war, a time when political prisoners were considered traitors.
… work offers insight on Russia, a country that continues to play a large world role.
Sasha defies her family and begins her study in Moscow as an actress. It’s a profession considered unworthy of a family identified as intelligentny, a word used by her mother to characterize educated and cultured people. An actress friend tells Sasha, “Theater is very dangerous weapon.” Meanwhile, her childhood friend, Andrei, and later her lover, becomes a Communist Party apparatchik. But he is not allowed to marry an actress. Rather, he is tasked with censoring the plays in which she performs.
Author Gorokhova in her poetic prose describes the Soviet Union as a place where no one could be trusted: “Truth is an exotic fruit that doesn’t grow in the semi-arctic zone of freezing winters and rainy, mosquito-infested summers.”
The novel pivots back and forth between the Stalin years by incorporating her uncle’s journal entries, her personal observations of Stalin’s police arrests of people for minor infractions, and the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, who eased some Iron Curtain restrictions.
Gorokhova’s first novel is interesting, but not compelling. She doesn’t reveal anything alarmingly new, and it is difficult to believe her uncle, under stress and violence of war, could have written such long tropes and had them delivered to his mother, who hid them in the attic to be found later by Sasha. Still, her work offers insight on Russia, a country that continues to play a large world role.