cover image Y.T.


Alexei Nikitin, trans. from the Russian by Anne Marie Jackson. Melville House (PRH, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-61219-512-4

A simple strategy game invented by a group of students languishing in the Ukrainian countryside threatens to derail their lives not once but twice in Nikitin’s tense and melancholic novel of trust betrayed. Sent out of Kiev in September of 1983 to help gather an apple harvest, the idling Davidov, Korostichevski, Kanyuka, Kurochkin, and Reingarten design a Civilization-like entertainment, writing an alternate history of Eurasia in which each young man becomes a ruler. After returning to the university, all five are arrested: someone has informed on them to the Soviet authorities, who insist on the game’s treasonous significance. The trauma of their two-month interrogation irrevocably alters the players’ trajectories—by 2004, Kurochkin has risen to become a member of Parliament, while Davidov throws himself into “a tiresome, uninteresting job” selling “American fizzy drinks.” But an anonymous email, announcing that someone has taken a turn in the long-abandoned game, dredges up their shared and festering past. The perversion of an innocent game into an occasion for treachery serves Nikitin as a metaphor for the realities of post-Soviet Ukraine, in which all of Davidov’s efforts at making an honest life are foiled: “We were beaten in different ways, but the end result was always the same.” (Apr.)