“Tatiana and the Russian Wolves” Clovercroft Publishing, $14.99
Stephen Evans Jordan will read from his debut novel, “Tatiana and the Russian Wolves,” at Napa Bookmine at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, in a joint presentation with Elizabeth Bishop and Conrad Fuller, Sonoma-based authors of “Galahad’s Fool.”
Jordan, who grew up in Napa and graduated from Napa High School, now lives in Chicago. He began writing fiction after a career in international banking.
The Tatiana of the title has been dead for 20 years when the story opens in 1985. And like most ghosts, she is shrouded in mystery.
Her son, Alexander, talks to her regularly and hears her replies,
The daughter of an aristocratic Russian family, Tatiana endured the trauma of the Russian revolution and of life in exile in Paris during World War II before she and her mathematician husband and her son land in Berkeley. After the death of her husband, Tatiana, a dreamy and imaginative art expert, who creates a private world for herself and her beloved son, sends the teen-aged boy away, and then kills herself.
“We were travelers,” Alexander says. “Art books and museums were departure gates. Her incredible imagination allowed her to walk into paintings, explore the settings and talk to the subjects. When I was a boy, I followed her. But after she died, I put away such make-believe.”
Or did he?
Two decades later, Alexander has made a success of his life, at least on the surface. He has pushed away the call of art to become an international banker based in San Francisco. He survived largely because of his mother’s American friend, Fiona, a wealthy San Francisco socialite, who supported him through college and beyond. After a brief affair with Fiona’s son, Drew, it’s the mother who becomes his clandestine, if enduring, lover over the next two decades.
These are only a few of the secrets that are revealed in the course of the book, which unfolds in layer upon layer. At the core, for Alexander, there remains the question of what drove his mother to madness and suicide. The people in his life all hold missing pieces of a picture, which he haphazardly assembles; it’s not just Fiona and Drew, but Russians with whom he goes to work after the collapse of the Soviet Union — everyone down to the family doctor knows more than Alexander does.
“Tatiana and the Wolves” is an ambitious and original novel of love, loss and survival that mingles two worlds in chaos: the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, which ultimately destroyed his mother, and the world in 1985-89 in which the novel is set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic that is devastating another culture.
Alexander, aloof, courtly, innately aristocratic, with his cultivated taste and complicated love life, navigates the worlds of San Francisco, Moscow, and Paris, with a degree of aplomb, but all the while, he is talking to his mother’s ghost. When circumstances catapult his life in a personal turmoil, the question remains: will he navigate his way to somewhere on his own or will he be consumed by the “Russian wolves” that swallowed up his mother?