Lydia Fitzpatrick tells the story of two brothers growing up in Russia who dream of a life in America in her book Lights All Night Long.
As Fitzpatrick weaves together the past and current adventures of Ilya and Vladimir, two young men being raised by a single mother in the shadow of a Russian oil refinery, a captivating tale emerges–one of connection, family, loyalty, and longing.
Ever since Ilya learned his first words of English by watching a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, he and his older brother talked about the life they would build together in America. As Ilya advanced in school Vladimir withdrew, until the point at which Ilya is selected to participate in an exchange program and go to America, and Vladimir is fully immersed in the drug-ridden underbelly of their hometown.
As Ilya attempts to adjust to life with his host family in Louisiana, he recounts the final moments he spent with Vladimir, prior to Vladimir’s arrest for the murder of three women. Can Ilya clear his brother of the charges from another country? Will he ever fit in at his high school, or with the church-going Mason family and their three American daughters?
Ilya studied for years to be the best and the brightest, and his mother pinned all of her hopes on her youngest boy, as did his English teacher, Maria. As the reader draws the conclusion that Ilya’s education doesn’t insulate him from the pain of being separated from his brother, of feeling awkward in social situations, and of the fear of disappointment, it’s easy to remember how fraught high school really was.
Ilya befriends the oldest Mason daughter, Sadie, and he learns more about her life as an American teenager while he shares the truth (the real truth) about his own family. They investigate the murders and as they uncover more information together, the reader discovers some surprising similarities between their hometowns.
This book was incredible. It was beautiful in a messy way–I never pronounced Ilya’s hometown, or his teacher’s name, or most of the Russian words–the same way twice in my head. The Russian storylines are bleak. The drug storylines are similarly tough to read. But you know what? That made the bright spots even brighter. All of the supporting characters had bright spots in their own ways.
“At home, they did not throw away tinfoil. Babushka rinsed it and hung it to dry on the laundry line, as did everyone else in the kommunalkas. And sometimes, when Ilya was walking home from school and the sun hit the balconies just right, the whole building seemed to sparkle.”
As rough as the book was, I really loved it. Some lines resonated beyond belief and I was struck by their poetic nature.
“But none of these imaginings were realistic. They were the sorts of things that happened in movies, so that people could feel the satisfaction of a story stitched shut. And life was not like that. Life was a constant unraveling.”
Read “Lights All Night Long” for the feelings –the good and the bad — that it will bring you. It’s worth it.