USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov
Translated by Andrea Gregovich
Fiction Advocate, 2014; 230 pp
Reviewed by Jack Hill

 

Vladimir Kozlov's novel, USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid, is an earnest and raw coming of age tale set during the mid-eighties in Mogilev, an industrial city in the Belorussian Republic and not far from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Igor, the young protagonist and narrator, is more focused on girls, toys, fighting, smoking cigarettes, and fitting in at school than he is with the Soviet–Afghan War and Mikhail Gorbachev's presidency. Through Igor's day-to-day experiences, Kozlov allows the reader a street level, brutally honest perspective of life in the last days of the Soviet Union.

USSR is told through a series of bursts—short, fast paced passages—brimming with passion and fresh, politically-laced dialog exchanges that reveal both character and culture. In a passage early on, Igor's uncle, Zhora, visits, gives Igor and Natasha, his sister, two Spartak brand chocolate bars and says, “'Chocolate is beneficial for mental work. That's a proven scientific fact” (17). Immediately after, Zhora asks if Igor's tape deck still works and Igor asks him if he's suggesting his tape deck is going to break (17). Zhora replies with a short lecture that seems to best harness the sentiment toward the Soviet Union growing within Igor throughout the novel: “'I don't trust domestic technology. Even less if it's made in our city. The only good tape decks are Japanese. The ones they make around here are pieces of crap. They're tape decks in name only” (17).

Igor is instantly relatable through his typical adolescent struggles, but the matter-of-fact way he takes in the world is so full of heart that this novel is a true page-turner. One such instance is when Igor reveals the origin of his jeans: “I was getting ready to go to my car club. I took off my stay-at-home sweatpants and put on my Miltons jeans, which used to be Natasha's. When the Italian Rifle jeans first went on sale at GUM this summer for one hundred rubles she gave me her Miltons. Then Mama and I went to see a seamstress she knew in the new building across from the big window store” (32).

Beat by beat Kozlov successfully pulls me deeper into Igor's life, one where dodging bloody noses and learning about sex is unflinchingly the top priority as well as the gateway to exploring the political/cultural landscape of the time. Kozlov's USSR is a reminder that being a kid is hard work.