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13 November 2018

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Book Review

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The Great Glass Sea

By Josh Weil (Grove Press, $16)

This lush novel is at once a fantastical tale of an alternative Russian future, while at the same time a subtly allegorical story of competing worldviews, personified in the diverging life paths of two twin brothers, once inseparable.

The tale begins with a long, rambling, first sentence that is steeped, like much of the book that follows, in the language and mysticism of Russian fairy tales, yet soon enough we are swept into a strange world where two brothers, Yarik and Dima, are laboring on the construction of a vast greenhouse whose relentless growth is quietly gobbling up the surrounding countryside and all that it represents.

The structure is heated by an orbiting mirror that provides prosperity and jobs, yet turns locals’ lives into a painfully, endlessly long day. And yet, life for the brothers is mostly good and uncomplicated, until a chance encounter with the reigning oligarch turns everything sideways. The twins’ deep, fraternal love is increasingly at odds with the daunting forces of conformity and development, and each much choose where their loyalties lie.

Beautifully written, this is a perfect summer read for Russophiles, and a healthy one too, clocking in at just under 500 pages.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: July/Aug 2015