By Olga Grushin, (New York: G. P. Putnam, 2010)
Olga Grushin’s latest novel, The Line,
is an artful entry back into the world of Soviet Russia in the 1960s wrapped in eloquent and rich prose. Though not written to be explicitly theological, Grushin’s novel is a tantalizing meditation on the nature of hope. The novel centers around a line which forms at a kiosk rumored to be selling tickets for a concert the following New Year by a famous Russian composer who had defected. The story takes its historical cue from the year-long and thousand-member line that formed to hear Igor Stravinsky on his brief return visit to Russia.
In the novel, Sergei, Anna, their son Alexander, and Anna’s mother Maya, take turns holding a place in the line for one ticket over the course of four long seasons in a bleak Russian town. As the story unfolds, Grushin explores how hope for the tickets unmasks unraveling relationships and unexpressed disappoints and dreams within the family. And yet the process of solidarity in waiting, and the new relationships of friendship and trust that emerge on account of the line, ultimately brings the characters together as family. More importantly, they each mature toward the selfless choice of sacrifice one for the other. The novel helpfully challenges Christians to remember that hope is less about realized dreams than about confidence that forbearing love can make a way where there is no way. It is no wonder, then, that the novel’s opening citation speaks of hope: “For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it patiently” (Rom 8:24-25).
Reviewed by Dr. Miriam Y. Perkins, Assistant Professor of Theology and Society