I received an ARC of this book through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.
Though I did not realize it until halfway through, this book contains a glossary of Russian words used in the novel, which was very helpful at times. The book also includes a piece written by Carner about her own experience in Russia, drawing many parallels to the events in the novel.
I liked the idea of this book and I think the author is in a unique position in having had such a powerful experience, but at the same time her biased perspective is portrayed in the novel, making it an unintentionally sad example of American thinking.
I understand that Carner wrote this book from her own personal experience, and while I do not argue with her representation of events, her tone is clearly skewed by her own perspective.
The main character, Brooke (clearly a manifestation of Carner herself) fills the role of the typical culturally-obtuse American. She is selfish, naive, and arrogant. She goes to Russia with a very "Western" approach of going in and "saving" the oppressed women. She is so judgemental of the Russian women she meets without taking in their backgrounds, which are severely different from her own. Brooke shows little sympathy for the women's pasts and the experiences that shaped them as people and seems surprised at their lack of resources and specific formal education. The book hardly seems to represent the women's perspective despite the fact that chapters specifically follow women such as Olga and Svetlana. The American women seem to go into Russia thinking that it will somehow have developed democracy over night, expecting to be treated the same as they were in America. There is a huge culture shock and instead of working within the system (corrupt as it is), Brooke just seems to complain about it, expecting everyone to work within her American mindset, then completely ignoring the system and putting herself and other's lives in danger.
I really liked the complexity of the main Russian characters, Olga and Svetlana, and think they had some truly powerful moments. But the American women appeared to just be caricatures of American stereotypes.
After going through the whole experience, it did not seem that Brooke really grew as a person, she appears to become almost more selfish, focusing more fully on her own life (such as her poorly developed relationship with Judd). I was very dissatisfied with the end of the novel and do not feel there was enough character growth.
While the writing was good and the book contained very detailed descriptions, I was just expecting more from a book with such a promising premise. The demise of this book seems to be having been written from personal experience and the author being blinded by her own perspective.