"Hotel Moscow" by Talia Carner

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Talia Carner, like her heroine Brooke Fielding, traveled to Moscow in the early days of that city’s emergence from decades of communism. She apparently went with the intention of training Russian entrepreneurial women in basic business practices, also as in Hotel Moscow. I hope like crazy she didn’t face all the same threats from Russian men, the Russian Parliament, and chauvinistic Russian attitudes as her heroine.

For these threats and grave dangers fill Hotel Moscow from beginning to end. Brooke is detained for no reason at Sheremetyevo airport when she first arrives; she is injured when Russian mafia thugs destroy a small clothing factory; and she suffers further injury in the artillery exchange when Parliament rises up against Boris Yeltsin.

These bruising episodes stand in for the systemic bias against women, and especially against Jewish women, in Russia as it struggled to shake off decades of government by paranoia. Ms. Carner does an exceptional job of bringing these prejudices clearly into focus - that’s one chief accomplishment of this book.

The author attempts an inward journey for her main character; she pulls this off with less success. She shows her heroine looking at herself unblinkingly, and finally comes to own and acknowledge past misjudgments and mistakes. Perhaps there was too much going on in Brooke’s life, as in our experience while reading of the confusing, threatening whirlwind of her visit. This inward dialog falls short - we want a deeper, less stereotypical Brooke.

Be warned though: women suffer rape and other tortures in this book. Ms. Carner has chosen not to spare us these details, and they serve her fiction - they are not gratuitous scenes at all. I admire her all-encompassing recitations of these evils.

Overall the book left me glad to be done. I tired of Brooke and her disjointed visit, honestly. Scenes that I thought would climax in some heart-pounding suspense just petered out. The result was uneven. I applaud the clarity and comprehensive storytelling the author employs to describe the range of abuse heaped on women by Russian men, but not the unreliable structure supporting it.

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