The setting is Milwaukee, Wisconsin—if not America’s heart, then at least its liver—home to an array of breweries and abandoned factories and down-on-their-luck Eastern European immigrants. The year is 1989.
Revolutions are sweeping through the nations of the Eastern Bloc. Communism is unraveling. And nobody feels this unraveling more piquantly than Yuri Balodis—a fifteen-year-old first-generation American living with his Latvian-immigrant parents in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.
It’s a turbulent time. And when Yuri falls in love with Hannah Graham—the daring daughter of a prominent local socialist—chaos ensues. Within weeks, Yuri is ensnared by both Hannah and socialism. He joins the staff of the Socialist Worker. He starts quoting Lenin and Marx indiscriminately.
His parents, of course, are horrified and deeply saddened. They try to educate him, to show him why, in their opinion, communism has ruined so many lives. But Yuri is stubborn. And his ideological betrayal will have more serious consequences than breaking his parents’ hearts.
Red Weather is by turns funny and bittersweet, tinged with a rueful comic sense that will instantly remind you of the absurd complications of love. Pauls Toutonghi’s stunning debut novel is at once reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.
Toutonghi's tragicomic debut novel paints a loving, cockeyed picture of the Soviet immigrant experience in the twilight of the Cold War. Yuri Balodis, a painfully thin, bookish 15-year-old living in Milwaukee with his parents, narrates with adolescent angst tempered by retrospective wisdom. Proud to have escaped Soviet Latvia under trying circumstances, Yuri's mother and father (who works as a janitor) have embraced America, choosing to speak only their own idiosyncratic brand of English and decorating their small apartment with glossy magazine ads. In 1989, Yuri watches the fall of the Berlin Wall on television, plays host to Latvian relatives who may or may not be seeking asylum, and dabbles in socialism, an interest derived mostly from his passion for wild-haired Hannah Graham, a Socialist Worker vendor. Yuri's patriotic parents, particularly his hard-drinking father, Rudolfi, are outraged by Yuri's espousal of Marxist rhetoric, a blatant form of teenage rebellion. Oblivious to everything except his own obsession with Hannah, Yuri fails to recognize his father's love, and the implications of his own recklessness, until it's almost too late. Toutonghi's carefully observed character details, evocation of working-class Milwaukee and tales of the old country effectively walk the line between realism and absurdity.