This is the tragicomic story of a successful young architect, Fyodor, the reluctant single father of an adolescent son with Down syndrome. The son is a terrible embarrassment to Fyodor, who relies on his own parents to take care of him. Fyodor has fraught relationship with them as well. But then a fatal car crash and the accidental discovery of a mystical painting, "Petroleum Venus," force this self-involved father to ultimately embrace his troubled son, his parents' moral values, and the real things in life.
Petroleum Venus won the Debut Prize, was shortlisted for the National Bestseller Prize, nominated for the Russian Booker, and sat on the www.ozon.ru bestseller list for a year.
William Bentrim on Amazon wrote:
Fyodor is an architect. He has a grown son named Vanya. Vanya was born with Down's syndrome. Throughout the years, Fyodor has grown to love his son. They have a pretty good relationship. I would not call it the best as Vanya likes structure and as part of this he wants to know every detail about Fyodor's day. Fyodor does not like this because Vanya acts like his mother in wanting to boss him around.
Things are about to change for both Fyodor and Vanya when Vanya finds a portrait of a woman.
To be brutally honest this book is not one that I would give a first or even second glance at. So, if this book had not been sent to me for a possible review, then I would never have read it. In fact, I picked up the book many times and put it back down. I had my mind made up before I ever started that this book was not going to be for me and I would not like it. This is where the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" fits appropriately in this situation.
I instantly fell in love with Vanya. It was his childlike innocence that won my heart for him. However, I found the other people to be mean towards Vanya. Just because someone else is "special" does not mean that they should be treated rudely. This book really shows that no matter what country you live in, this treatment of people does happen. It needs to stop. Luckily, Vanya found a place where he really belonged in the end. Who I did not care for from the get go were the "sisters". They were extremely mean and loud. They did get a little better as the story went on but they were only barely tolerable. Also, after a while I did find myself skimming this book some. Just because I wanted it to more along faster. Still, a good book and one that I would suggest to people looking for new authors to check out.
Petroleum Venus by Alexander Snegirev
This book is reminiscent of some of the things I was required to read in college lit. My initial reaction was negative but I persevered and am glad I did. Simplistically it is a story of a single parent's life with a Down Syndrome child.
The story is so much more than the simple description. It is impossible not to feel the cultural canyon between every day Russian life and that of the run of the mill middle class American. The descriptions of life in Russia are colorful and sometimes confusing. There is a mixture of 3rd world mystique that clashes with 21st century modernism. The stereotype of the stoic Russian carries through but is leavened with often coarse black humor.
This is an eye opening book in its cultural descriptions but also in the corruption of the social system in another country. As an American, we deplore and attack corruption in public officials and in Russia, it appears to be an accepted part of living life and yet look at the record of our elected officials. How different are we really?
The treatment of Vanya by his father is shocking and perhaps brutally honest. Fyodor undergoes some remarkable changes through the book. The "sisters" are certifiable as is Fyodor in many ways. Fyodor's family skills apparently came from his parents who also exhibited sadly humorous characteristics.
The meld of old world superstition with phlegmatic love of country regardless of hardship was eye opening.
This novel was surprising. It was moving and humorous at unexpected times. I recommend it but do not expect a run of the mill family story.
I recommend the book.