March 2024
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Review: The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, Gina Ochsner

In one of many falling-down apartment buildings in Siberia, a group of people are trying to live with a ghost who won’t leave them alone.  Mircha died in the winter from a fall, and as such hasn’t been properly buried.  So he feels free to haunt the inhabitants of the building; his wife and son, Azade and Vitek, Olga, a newspaper translator, her son Yuri, his socially conscious girlfriend, and Tanya, a dreamy former museum guide.  When a group of judges suggest that the museum where Tanya works, a collection of replicas and fakes, be judged for an award and funding, Tanya is chosen for the task and must enlist the whole building to help her succeed.  But with a reckless ghost and a group of untidy children regularly hanging around, she fears her goal is impossible.

I think my first reaction to this book is ambivalence.  I am fascinated by Russia; I love Russian history, Russian literature, the Russian language (I studied it for years), and visiting the country is one of my goals in life.  So I fully expected to love this book, and was disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

For one thing, it just felt meandering all over.  There’s some supernatural activity going on; there is rather obviously a ghost haunting an apartment building, for one thing, but there is also a hole that goes nowhere and sprouts peculiar objects and a couple other strange things.  I like magic in books, obviously, but there didn’t seem a reason for it here.  It didn’t add anything but confusion to me.   The story itself isn’t really that coherent; there’s a goal, but the chapters switch between characters and the book loses momentum pretty quickly every time.

Secondly, I just felt the whole plot bordered on ridiculous.  The museum is not really a museum.  How could it have won any awards when it is basically just a bunch of fake stuff that Tanya has mostly made?  Statues are made out of foam, paintings are imitations, and worst of all, the icons are made out of popsicle sticks, foil, and gum, personally by Tanya.  I could understand that the author was trying to get across that Russia isn’t what Americans think it is, especially after they’ve visited, but for me she went a step too far and I just struggled to enjoy the book.  Although I will admit I had to laugh when she showed the visitors their copy of the rather disgusting fetus exhibit, which I think was collected by Peter the Great originally.  I’m pretty sure most people would have a similar reaction!

If I liked anything, I did like Tanya, a chubby Russian girl with big dreams, all of which she writes down in her little book.  She wants to become a stewardess on Aeroflot, Russia’s best airline, but she needs to lose weight first and just can’t manage it.  She’s also very in love with Yuri (although why, I couldn’t tell you) and longs for him to abandon his noisy, greedy girlfriend Zoya but isn’t quite sure how to get him for herself.

Unfortunately, the many strands of The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight just never really tied together for me, and I didn’t quite get the point.  Sadly disappointing.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.


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