Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots begins with the story of Florence, an American Jew who, as a starry-eyed young woman committed to the workers’ revolution, leaves Brooklyn in 1934 for the Soviet Union. By the time it becomes clear that the Soviet Union isn’t the utopia-in-the-making she expected, the authorities forbid her from leaving. Florence loses her husband in one of Stalin’s purges, does a stint in the Gulag, and, decades later, returns to America with her son in an early Soviet-Jewish exodus. Krasikov eventually has Florence’s son and grandson end up in Putin-era Russia where they get swept up in a new sort of madness. In his review, A.E. Smith points to the historical realities at the book’s heart:
The irony implicit in The Patriots is that while many Jews embraced the Russian revolutionary cause from the very beginning—four of the seven members of the first Bolshevik Politburo were Jews—the revolution did not embrace them for long. For Russian Jews, the revolution represented liberation from centuries of tsarist oppression. For diaspora Jews such as Florence and her husband, it held out the promise of a just society in which all people—workers and peasants, Jews and Gentiles—would at last be equal. What they didn’t reckon with was the deep vein of anti-Semitism undergirding Russian culture and Russian history. It wasn’t excised in the great changes that birthed the USSR, merely disguised, and not particularly well. . . .
Krasikov’s meditation on patriotism and belonging, on compromise and guilt, echoes the great Russian voices—Vasily Grossman, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—who chronicled their almost unimaginable times, but who are now largely forgotten. . . .
The Patriots could easily have been a polemic. Instead, Krasikov chooses to evoke the unutterable sadness of the last century of Russian history, so intimately bound up with Jewish history. Krasikov’s Russia, a country she clearly knows well and loves deeply, has survived revolution, war, Stalin, and the leaden stagnation of the Brezhnev years, only to find itself run by an interchangeable cast of gangsters, grifters, and, once again, secret policemen.