Lavanya Karthik: Lavanya is from Mumbai, India and is a licensed
architect and consultant in environmental management. She lives in
Mumbai with her husband and six-year old daughter. She loves reading
and enjoys a diverse range of authors across genres.
Author: Nastya Polikarpova
Author: Nastya Polikarpova
A short prologue lamenting the end of romance sets the tone of this debut novel by Nastya Polikarpova. "Girls don't turn crimson from a man's gaze anymore", rues the protagonist, Alina. "Modern society has become more tragic than it has ever been because it rejected the one force able to inspire us: Love."
An unrelenting bleakness pervades this book about a young Russian immigrant’s experiences in New York City. Educated and self aware, Alina comes to New York chasing the American dream, only to be steadily disillusioned. Preyed upon by successive employers, she eventually ends up working as a dancer in a club. The eponymous men are, of course, the many clients Alina and her friends cater to – “suited monsters” that they put on an elaborate charade for, in exchange for money. Alina is deeply cynical of these men, yet she gets involved with a series of them, only to emerge emotionally battered.
At her lowest, she meets Alex, the boy next door, who seems the complete antithesis of the men she has chosen so far. Yet, even as they begin to build a relationship, Alina becomes involved with the mercurial Jackie, and is whisked right back into the high life. When she least expects it, Alina is faced with one final betrayal, one that will force her to reconsider her choices.
The book opens with promise, as we are drawn into Alina’s dark, melancholic world. The narrative has an interesting structure; it alternates between two different conversations that examine Alina’s life and choices - one, an intense monologue that Alina keeps up with the reader; the other, a recounting of her affairs by her colleague, the worldly wise and perceptive Lena. Viewed through these shifting lenses, Alina’s emerges as an intriguing character- articulate, intelligent but emotionally frail. At one point, she likens herself to the widow of a taxi saying,".. we are breathed on by strangers, covered by countless dirty fingerprints... a exhaustion that a car wash cannot cleanse away." Yet she can neither leave this life that she despises, nor keep an emotional distance from the people she claims to be so disillusioned by.
Author Polikarpova’s language is lucid and the ‘stream of consciousness’ style she adopts for Alina’s monologues make for compelling reading. However, the story ends too soon, rushing towards a rather contrived, if upbeat, ending. If anything, these are characters – especially the seasoned Lena – that deserved to be explored further