The Line - Olga Grushin
One of the common sights on the news from Communist countries were the lines.
The misfires of the economic policy's distributive system meant folks waited in lines - long lines - for everything from soap to bread to shoes. Often, people would get into line uncertain of what was even going to be sold. But many would wait anyway, on the off chance they might get whatever was on offer before supplies ran out.
Those lines and the specific queue that waited a year when it was announced that Stravinsky would return to the Soviet Union in the early 60s is the basis for the novel, which uses the device to demonstrate the gaps and losses in daily Soviet life.
Doing so means learning about the people in the line as they develop relationships and slowly unearthing the stories the family that serves for our narrative - Sergi, the tuba player who had had a chance at musical excellence before the Revolution or Change, his wife, Anna, a teacher, their brutish son Sasha and the grandmother, long ago a celebrated dancer in Paris and one-time lover of the composer about to return.
The problem is, the narrative jumps from person to person and blends in dream states and mystical moments that make it difficult if not sometimes impossible to follow. We are witness to a slow-motion tragedy but it loses its impact as tangents bend in on themselves.
It's impressive that the Russian-born-and-raised Grushin has such a masterful command of English. But her insistence on unnecessary descriptions and shifting points of view muck up the storytelling and vision. That means the book never lives up to its promise, as a way to show us the distortions of Communism or even as a commentary on our own consumerism.
In the end, there is too much going on here. She'd have done better to study Stravinsky, whose ability to incorporate varied elements never tampered with this distinct identity.