The Boy on the Bridge/Natalie Standiford: Reflections

Friday, July 12, 2013

It's 1982, and Laura is spending a semester in Russia, learning the language of a country she fell in love with years ago. Leningrad is freezing cold and gray. The food is fish head soup and gristle. Gypsies have begun harassing Laura on the bridge that spans the Neva River and she is alone, and afraid, when a boy—a Russian boy—makes them stop. He has "smooth fair skin, rosy cheeks, mischievous brown eyes" and he goes by the name of Aloysha.

Laura will, over the course of Natalie Standiford's The Boy on the Bridge, fall in love with Aloysha—breaking all the rules of her semester abroad, cutting classes, and risking expulsion for herself as well as a darker, more mysterious brand of danger for Aloysha. She will be cautioned—by friends, teachers, other Russians—against a Russian system that makes marriage to an American the best possible ticket out of a life of thwarted opportunities. She is just nineteen. She believes in love. She believes Aloysha is in love with her. But is it love, or is it a desire to flee the country that has wounded and encased him?

Standiford, who spent a Russian semester abroad years ago, writes with great authority about the Russian landscape, the tourist spots and the off-the-beaten-path interiors of Russian apartments and bookstores. She writes knowingly, too, about the near impossibility of being sure. Is the rapid fire of this passion really love? Does Aloysha's desire to leave his country shape his claim of passion—or the stories he tells? Is Aloysha even capable of being honest with himself?

It's complicated, and Standiford presents the complications compellingly well—tugging the reader through to the final pages of the book as we wonder—begin to need to know—precisely what will happen here to an American college girl in love.

Look for The Boy on the Bridge in August.


Snorkle said...

The ending was very unsettling for me. But I did like the vivid and descriptive Russian setting, I felt like I caught a glimpse into that country and could see it in my mind.

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