'The Great Glass Sea': Modern Russian fable is superbly drawn
Twin brothers Yarik and Dima were virtual lookalikes as boys growing up in rural Russia. Their joys and dreams entwined. Often when one spoke, the other would finish his sentence.
Their innocent world of fantasy and mirrored lives began to change along with their country, however. As they reached adulthood, the Russia of collectivist Soviet solidarity gave way to the capitalist Wild West of the oligarchs, and Yarik and Dima became, in many ways, opposites.
This tale of the changeling Russian twins, told by Josh Weil in his captivating first novel, “The Great Glass Sea,” is a kind of sweeping historical fable.
It is set in a fictional Russia in a future time, but it encompasses the former land of struggling Communist workers and apparatchiks and more recent billionaires full of “loot-fueled dreams.”
It also includes a youngish vagabond crowd — the alluring Vika and her motley cohorts, perhaps a rough Russian version of Yippies. They dream of a time before capitalists or Communists, even before the autocrats of old, a dream era when people “owned themselves, their work, their play, their time.”
The narrative is enlivened by an element of magical realism, Russian-style: The lives of Yarik and Dima and their countrymen are being overtaken by a billionaire's futuristic scheme to build the world's largest greenhouse.
This tall, vast glass construction — the title of the novel refers to this barrier sea above the fields and populace — nurtures growth from the soil with clockwork light from space mirrors.
Called the Oranzheria, the great glass sea is expanding over bought-up farms and lost peasant homesteads with no end in sight, “creeping over the land like a glacier in reverse.”
The twins both land jobs there, but similarities will soon end.
Weil, who first visited Russia as a 14-year-old exchange student in 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union fell, depicts the land and its people with affection, fascination and an unsparing eye. Memorable scenes abound. In one, an unwilling Dima is treated to a steam bath by Communists, who believe he is a new leader, and they smack naked bodies with birch branches. In another, Yarik endures a feast — lamb, charred sturgeon, fried onions — as the billionaire behind the great glass sea consumes the food heartily and explains his lethal business.
While this is Weil's first full-length novel, his highly regarded first book of fiction, “The New Valley,” published in 2009, was made up of three novellas. They were set in the hill country of Virginia and West Virginia.
But Russia became his consuming fictional subject after a return visit in 2010. He also drew the fine illustrations used throughout “The Great Glass Sea,” including a sea monster that appears to look out amid a scaled body of spired Russian domes as delicate as Faberge eggs.
Kendal Weaver is a staff writer for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Undersized Beachum quietly excels at 1 of game’s pivotal positions
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu, Taylor unlikely to play, Harrison ‘ready’
- Michigan State defensive coordinator a Pitt coaching candidate
- Pirates sign Corey Hart to 1-year deal
- Pitt: Football coach hire comes 1st, athletic director 2nd
- Penguins’ defensive depth proves valuable
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- Hotel building boom sweeps Pittsburgh region
- Penguins notebook: Kunitz ‘really close’ to return
- Man involved with crash with officer dies in Pittsburgh hospital
- Giant Eagle Inc. appears to have settled ‘fuelperks!’ lawsuit