This book… If you are looking for a story that is going to consume your mind for a few days (months, years after you have read it), this is one for you.
Teenage Ilya lives with his mother, grandmother, and older brother Vladimir in a remote town called Berlozhniki, located in the gulag archipelago. The family live in a kommunalki (communal apartment block), and struggle to make ends meet. The main attraction of the town is the oil refinery, owned by an oligarch, and where most of the town are employed, with lights that shine brightly all night long into the kommunalki. Ilya is a lingual prodigy, teaching himself English, and Vladimir is more interested in fighting for a better existence in other ways. While Ilya works with his devoted teacher towards passing boards in order to receive an exchange student scholarship to the US, sponsored by the oil companies, Vladimir discovers the new drug Krokodil, and the life that it brings along with it. During the long winter before Ilya is supposed to leave, three women are murdered, and Vladimir confesses to their murders. Ilya leaves for Effie, Louisiana, heartbroken but determined to prove that Vladimir is innocent.
Lydia Fitzpatrick does such a brilliant job of weaving two worlds together, in such a way that we become Ilya navigating them both on tiptoes, afraid to fall into the pits that exist on either side. Lights All Night Long is mystery, coming of age, humanity in general, the bond between siblings, and brilliant look into how similar we are wherever we may come from. I thoroughly enjoyed the deep look into the Russia of today that we don’t really see depicted anywhere else (unless you actively search for it), as well as the way we discover the US in the same way as Ilya does.
I also absolutely love both Ilya and Sadie, the eldest daughter in Ilya’s US host family. They are the type of characters that feel real. All of the characters actually felt real to me, but these two shone despite some of the darkness surrounding them.
My last read of 2018 turned out to be a real gem. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy, and thanks so much to Lydia Fitzpatrick for gracing us with this wonderful read!