One-Two tugs on the heartstrings from word one. Faith and Hope are conjoined twins. Abandoned at birth, they are raised in institutes and foster homes, receiving the barest minimum of care and education while being subjected to tests and unscrupulous scrutiny. The possibility of a surgery to separate them brings with it a measure of hope, but first they must make it to Moscow, a trip fraught with peril. And there is no guarantee that either twin would survive such a delicate and grueling surgery. If both survive, what will that mean for their identities? They were one, with a unique identity. Separate, are they still the same?
Set in Russia of the ’80s and ’90s, the atmosphere is a bleak one. It really opened my eyes to a whole different world that existed so close to my own. I grew from child to adult during that era. I’m used to reading historical fiction far removed from my own time period. I cried to realize that people would still suffer so and be subjected to such ridicule and treatment in what I would like to believe an enlightened era, though the present temperament of the US betrays that sentiment….The more things change, the more they are the same.
How they were treated at the beginning! So cold, so sterile an environment. And to know you were abandoned at birth as unwanted, left to be guinea pigs at the whim of doctors. I mean, seriously, who plunges children into ice water if they don’t have a sky-high fever? Yet, I know that was practice in the sanitariums of the US, most of which thankfully closed in the ’80s. Barbaric, truly barbaric.
This book is a rather unique one. In a world where dialogue is king, Eliseev has woven a tale of courage and compassion through narrative alone. These are the thoughts of one twin, Faith, to her sister, Hope, narrating the story of their life, though she never seems to speak these thoughts aloud, rendering it much like journal-keeping. The language, at times, is quite poetic, such as when Faith describes Lizzie as “an embodiment of fireworks bursting with thousands of emotional colors and shades never seen in one person before.”
Eliseev, a native Russian, injects a uniquely Russian way of viewing language, influenced by a culture and context far different from that of the average Brit or American. I love books written by authors of different countries whose native language isn’t necessarily English for just that reason. The anthropologist in me loves exploring culture however it manifests, and storytelling is a huge way. However, this is something one should be aware of going in. There are unusual turns of phrase and uncommon ways of thinking. Judge not by your own culture and language!
I believe Eliseev’s One-Two has the potential to become a classic of modern historical fiction. Highly recommended.