36 Yalta Boulevard
Intrigue Among the Cabbage Rolls
A review by Anna Godbersen
Thirty-Six Yalta Boulevard, the title of Olen Steinhauer's novel about an unnamed Soviet satellite and the men who defend it, refers to the Ministry for State Security, which is located at that address and is, in a way, a character -- a mysterious and fickle one, with maddeningly oblique motivations. Steinhauer's protagonist is Major Brano Sev, a spy, an apparatchik, and a true believer, who is unfailingly (sometimes, illogically) loyal to No. 36. This loyalty means that Brano will be flung into strange and dangerous situations, that he will be kept in the dark but will still continue in the belief that he is fighting the good fight, that he is not a middle-aged man alone in the world. When a subordinate double-crosses him, he is sent from his post in Vienna back to work an assembly line in the Pikdora People's factory in his home country. No. 36 doesn't leave him alone for long, however, and he is sprung for a small assignment in his hometown. There, among the gossip and the pork cabbage rolls, Brano gets the feeling that he is being set up again, but he perseveres, all the long, cold way back to Vienna, where a beautiful and young Yugoslavian waits for him, where everybody seems to want a piece of the good Major.
Thirty-Six Yalta Boulevard, like its namesake, is full of tricks; it is a brainy thriller motored by stylishness and brevity. Steinhauer evokes the baroque, bureaucratic nature of the Ministry without choking his readers on it, and he can render it humorous without being satirical. His characters, too, are subtle and biting. They are lonely and at risk, but they are beholden to a world more vast, secretive and calculating than they could imagine. That is comfort of a kind.
to Esquire and Save 75%
Get 12 fantastic issues of Esquire magazine
for only $8. The best culture, entertainment, style, financial advice, women
and more delivered right to your door every month ? at an incredible 81% savings
off the newsstand price! What could be better... or easier?
here to subscribe now!