Plot or Premise
The year is 1968, the location is Russia. Alexander’s father defies the state and the KGB kill him. He and his mother must escape, and they have to choose between a ship going to the UK or one going to America.
What I Liked
The plot uses the same plot structure as Sliding Doors, the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow (this is sometimes called the “A/B” plot device). If you know the movie, you know there is always a scene at the start where the main character has to make a choice (A or B). In Sliding Doors, Gwyneth tries to board a subway — and the story divides into two parallel tales, one based on whether she makes the train and one where she doesn’t. In a recent TV show, Ordinary Joe, there were three storylines.
For this book, a coin toss is used to decide Alex and his mother’s fate. The stories are told in parallel, bopping back and forth between them over time. In one timeline, Alexander becomes “Alex” in New York, a street trader and military guy vs. “Sasha” in London who is the academic. Both get involved in bigger issues, etc.
What I Didn’t Like
A recurring problem with the fast pace of Archer’s books is that it often reads almost like a fairy-tale life — event A springboards him into event B which springboards him into events C, D, E, F, and then next thing you know, he’s deputy only to God himself. It does read unrealistically at times, as every character goes on to something big in politics (like President or PM, etc.). In addition, the twist at the end as they wrap stuff up leaves one of the storylines very disappointing, all things being equal.
The Bottom Line
Great story, cute twist ending, but one storyline doesn’t pay off.