Spring Break for Existentialists

It's expats gone wild in the old eastern bloc

Shonk's great subject is the enticing puzzlement of cross-cultural relations. A privileged Chicagoan learns "a tolerance for indignity" with her grad-student husband in Moscow. A man whose wife has left him visits the Russian couple with whom the two once stayed, only to find that they, too, are splitting. "You think we should share everything with you because we are Russian?" the wife growls. A feckless, out-of-work scientist greets his wife's gregarious American co-workers and their new baby, noting that it "was fat and pink, like any other baby. [He] wondered when it would begin to look American."

Call them Chekhovian if you must: These are confident, lovely stories, attuned to the music of longing and the riddle of connection amid the blare and neon of casino Moscow. Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay Shonk is that she doesn't sound American at all.

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