Writer: Irina Odoevtseva (translated by Bryan Karetnyk, Irina Steinberg)
Publishing House: Pushkin Press
Date of Publication: July 4th 2019 (first published 1929)
Rating: 5 stars
”So what? What do we care about the future?”
Liza, a girl of fourteen, the ”Isolde” of the title, lives the ”good life” in Biarritz, in the shadow of her mother who cares for nothing and no one except her good-for-nothing lover. But they live on borrowed time and borrowed money. Lisa believes that life is sunshine, car rides, and handsome boys. When she meets an English teenager, she is caught in her brother’s web while Andrei, her Russian boyfriend, is watching and waiting…
”It was nothing to do with him. It was someone else’s grief.”
Written in the 1920s, this is the story of a generation wasted, a generation lost, forced to abandon Russia for a sunny place somewhere in Western Europe. A temporary sunshine that hides the decadence, hypocrisy and ephemeral entertainment that swallows the youth’s soul and mind. And even if the dream of returning to Moscow and St. Petersburg is always alive, it requires money. Money is nowhere to be found. Unless you steal. Unless you turn into a whore.
”But somewhere in the background she can hear the bitterness and the sadness.”
Liza smiles and dances and falls in love too easily. She is fourteen, practically motherless, fascinating and enticing. She is ”a nun and a witch in one”. She captivates and lures but never loses her innocence or her kindness. For some strange, it is exactly her contradictory nature that puts her in danger. This is an example of the battle of the sexes that starts at an early age, the willingness of a man to utilize the woman’s potential fragility once he understands that she has fallen in love.
The spirit of the era, the antithesis between Paris and Moscow, the frenetic time that dictates a wild, carefree attitude, the sensuality, seductiveness and the underlying sorrow and desperation are masterfully depicted. But I have to say that one needs to understand the female soul to fully appreciate Odoevtseva’s pen. To the superficial reader- and God knows they are many- the writing may seem melodramatic and meaningless. No. Despite the ”light” atmosphere and the lack of ground-breaking events, Isolde is an excellent study of an era full of uncertainty and contradictions and characters that knew no family, no present and future was just a remote possibility.
If you take the time to fully engage and search beyond the glamour and teenage love troubles, you will understand why Irina Odoevtseva is now considered one of the ”lost” great female authors in Russian Literature. Thank God for Pushkin Press.
”And over by Kuznetsky Bridge, down on the ice, lives a white polar bear, and the sky sparkles pink all night long with dancing Northern Lights.”
Many thanks to Pushkin Press, NetGalley and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.