'The Natashas' Book Review


Explorations of sexual power, force and identity underpin this beautifully written dreamscape debut by Yelena Moskovich. By turns theatrical and surreal, the novel interweaves three stories of fractured souls, whose aspirations either drift tantalisingly beyond reach or have been snatched from them. A sense of depersonalisation is heightened by cultural and linguistic transpositions from Eastern Europe and Mexico into the languorous streets of Paris.

César, a gay actor, lives a lonely expat life working in telesales as he grapples with the toxic masculinity infusing his past. He must not only face it, but embody it in order to win the role of a lifetime: Latin psycho ‘Manny’. Jazz singer Béatrice goes through life as a cipher, her spirit hanging listless in the prison of her beauty. Dubbed ‘Miss Playboy’ and ‘Miss Monroe’, she is desired, used and then discarded by men who soon tire of her silence and stiff touch. Meanwhile, trapped in a windowless locked room are women who arrived in the bottom of boats, the trunks of trucks, lured by fancy cars and the promise of a better life: ‘The Natashas’. They have all lost their true names.

‘In Spanish we have that expression too. But we say la sangre llama’, César translates to his would-be lover Stefan, before demanding that he hit him. Blood’s calling. When the requested punch is not forthcoming, he takes matters into his own hands and strikes Stefan. This mélange of vulnerability, longing and violence is a constant thread in a story that picks up and drops individuals like a series of changing Sichuan opera masks. They may or may not be projections from the characters’ own damaged psyches.

Moskovich’s background as a playwright and training at the school of physical theatre Jacques Lecoq is evident in her use of repetition and sound. It creates a beating pulse to a novel that slips and slides through space and time, unmoored from linear convention: the Natashas’ wordplay hypotheses of ‘papaya’ and ‘foto’; the doo-bee-doo of Béatrice’s voice; a Mexican folk song. Whispers on the wind in Béatrice’s ear say: ‘Polina’, and she is called forth. A mysterious figure who explains to her that ‘there are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them’, it is not only the trafficked Natashas who are disconnected. A sense of life propelled beyond our control, of characters that brim with destiny whilst being unable to fulfil them, gives a haunting and suspenseful edge to the free-flowing narrative.     

Originally published for Eclectic Magazine online.