This book appears to be one among many recent books that focus on the quiet, virginal female outsider with a simmering inner landscape. This protagonist finds her place not by fitting in, but rather by performing outrageous acts of immorality and yet thinking no one is the wiser. ( Bitter Orange comes to mind) Zoya Andropova, a penniless Russian immigrant who lost everything and everyone she ever loved in WW I feels fortunate. While other children died of disease, she emigrated to an elite girls school in New Jersey after a harrowing ship’s passage on an “Orphan Boat.” Although physically sound, her mind has not quite remained intact after the journey. The survival instincts she has been forced to hone are called into play immediately upon her arrival. As a poor child without clothing or command of the English language, she soon becomes bullied incessantly by her peers.
Zoya develops a fascination for plants and flowers at the school’s greenhouse, which becomes a sanctuary for her. Perhaps this is why she chooses to stay after graduation, becoming the assistant greenhouse keeper while having no choice over her living quarters: The first year, she remains in the girls dorm, subject to even more cruelty and even physical assault.
Things finally begin to look up for Zoya when she is able to move into her own tiny apartment. She becomes involved with the institution’s local Lothario, married and with a storied past. Zoya lives a life of secrets and wraps her world around her lover while he continues on with his academic and philandering interests until he asks her to intervene in his life in a horrendous and calculated way.
Intriguing and engrossing, this book swallowed me as a reader with its’ incredulous plot points and mix of the mundane with the wicked, the ordinary day with the evil moment of reckoning.
I am reminded of text from an old psychology book that stuck with me. “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” But what choices did Zoya make in the past that would lead anyone to believe she could act the way she does in the story? You will have to read the book to find out, and then maybe we can discuss!