Finished Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina. I received a copy for review.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia–her life’s dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country’s and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away–her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn’t always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her “rescuer” at a construction site she calls “castle.” So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?
In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be “sisters” and the People brothers,” what does one’s nationality have to do with anything?
All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?”
I loved this book so much! There’s a lot going on here, and it’s set in the Soviet Union, an area I knew nothing about in 1990 and 1991, when this book takes place. (Well, I take that back. I knew who Gorbachev was, and I knew they were Communist and I knew they didn’t like us much. So whatever is one step away from nothing, that’s what I knew.)
What I also didn’t understand then was trying to figure out where you belong. In Russian society, you were Russian if your father was Russian and in Jewish culture, you’re Jewish if your mother is Jewish. So here is the conflict: Sonya’s father was Russian and her mom is Jewish. She can’t really have both sides of her heritage because Russians didn’t seem very fond of Jewish people over the course of this novel.
Sonya’s finally back with her mom so her first impulse is to start to explore her Jewish roots, but is almost immediately told how dangerous that would be. And it’s further manifested by the two boys she’s interested in: a Jewish guy who’s smart and good and a Russian guy who’s a jerk most of the time and who’s actively prejudiced. (I am not an unbiased observer here, so no points for guessing which one I preferred.)
There’s a lot to love about this story, but the real magic of it is this: it’s a book set in the past in a country that doesn’t exist anymore, and it still feels so relevant to today. Sonya’s story is very specific to her time and culture, but it’s also not hard to extrapolate it to today’s world. She’s impossible not to love, even when she makes bad choices.
This is such a fascinating book and I love Sonya so much. I hope her story is continued in another story. Hopefully soon.