As a book reviewer, I received a copy of this book for free from Blogging For Books to facilitate this review. I received no other compensation and as always my review and opinion is 100% my own. Links within the post are affiliate links (read full disclosure).
Let’s start this review by me telling you that I really enjoyed the book. Now you can keep reading all about it and know that I am not wasting your time!
I didn’t know if I’d like the premise, but ended up very interested:
Four friends who separately leave Russia to live in New York City. The book details how their lives are intertwined, and different since leaving Russia, their expectations and experiences as immigrants in a new city, and how their outlooks on life change, the longer they stay in the US.
For those of you reading from Book Beginnings…the first few line (s) of the book are:
“Promise me you won’t call it ‘Virtual Grave,'” Vica said as they turned onto the West Side Highway.
“You were the one who hated ‘The Voice from the Grave’!” Sergey said.
“‘The Voice from the Grave’ is even worse. We can’t afford a name that’s a downer.”
“Well, the entire idea is about death. And death happens to be a downer,” Sergey said.
From the New York Times Book Reviewe, 100 Notable Books of 2016:
Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina met in Russia in their school days, but remained in touch and now have very different American lives. Sergey cycles through jobs as an analyst, hoping his idea for an app will finally bring him success. His wife Vica, a medical technician struggling to keep her family afloat, hungers for a better life. Sergey’s former girlfriend Regina, once a famous translator is married to a wealthy startup owner, spends her days at home grieving over a recent loss. Sergey’s best friend Vadik, a programmer ever in search of perfection, keeps trying on different women and different neighborhoods, all while pining for the one who got away.
The backdrop of the story is the concept of our digital lives. How we present ourselves one way on social media, either hoping to present our best-selves or the self we want to be. The book raises questions about whether our online life is actually our life, and should it live on once we are gone (dead). The characters in the story debate this idea, and the perception about the value of our digital lives is reflected back and forth as we see the characters live ACTUAL lives.
Huh. Super interesting to me, as I have a sense that I hate Facebook and know everyone presents only what they want people to see, but I also use it a ton for this blog – it is a platform for what I want to show the world about HAG, so I find value in using it in my life. The book was expert in mirroring the absurdity of our digital lives in these characters.
Aside from the story itself, I loved the insight into immigrants from Russia in a city. I liked that I could relate to the characters who were approaching 40 years of age, who were at points in their lives where they are focused on jobs, family, or their futures. I liked that I could relate on that level but also gain some insight into how different living in the US is to someone from outside of it.
There is romance, technology, contemporary life, urban sensibility and philosophical rambling in here. Maybe not for everyone, but I found it fun and satisfying.
Still Here, by Lara Vapnyar
Hogarth Press (reprint), 2017, 336 pages