Sunday, 26 February 2017

Guest Review: One-Two by Igor Eliseev

One-Two by Igor Eliseev
Published in the UK by Glagoslav Publications in December 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Russia

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Guest review by Mark Benjamin
Mark Benjamin is the author of two books (and counting) including the vampire novel A Change Of Heart (my review here). When not writing his third book or planning literary world domination, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, Lucy; entertaining his under one-year old daughter, Leia; playing on his PlayStation, AnnA; and reading (obviously).

Mark's rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two conjoined babies are born at the crossroads of two social worldviews. Girls are named Faith and Hope. After spending their childhood in a foster home and obtaining primary education, they understand that they are different from other people in many respects. The problems of their growing up are exacerbated with permanent humiliations from society.
Finally, fortune favors them, slightly opening a door to happiness – separation surgery that theoretically can be performed in the capital. And sisters start their way, full of difficulties and obstacles. Will they be able to overcome a wall of public cynicism together with internal conflicts among themselves? Will they find a justification for their existence and accept it? Searching for the answers to these and many other questions constitutes the essence of this novel.
One-Two is a psychological drama, the main events of which unfold in 1980s and 1990s. The novel is a speculation about how difficult it is to be a human and how important it is to stay human until the end. It is a message full of empathy and kindness addressed to all people. I believe the right time has come. I hope this book is for you.

Mark says: Indeed for me, the right time did come when I read this book. Now, seeing as to how this is my second review (I'm no longer a virgin in this regard), I had trouble when it came to writing this. There were too many quotes which I absolutely loved (so I'll string some along in the review) and it was pretty hard to decide where to start. But here goes...

Let's start at the beginning. One-Two is set in the 1980s and 1990s of Russia, in the Soviet Union era and particularly during the Perestroika period. From the onset, this reminded me of my History lessons as a teenager, wistfully remembering how Mikhail Gorbachev in the Cold War wished to restructure (the meaning of Perestroika) the Soviet political and economic system within the Communist Party. Perestroika was one of the causes for the dissolution of the USSR. A memorable quote from One-Two author, Igor Eliseev, which showcases this time period within the story, is:

“People are strange and incomprehensible. Once they are forbidden from doing something, they revolt, grow loud and unrestricted in their hate.”

Faith and Hope are conjoined twins with Faith being the narrator as she speaks to her twin, Hope. I found this particularly refreshing as to how intriguing the story played out. Faith and Hope are the main protagonists and they come to meet a host of friendly and at times not-so-friendly characters along the way. The main antagonists in my humble opinion as a reader, are the emotions of despair, alcoholism, and the dire physical and emotional abuse treated towards them by all and sundry, in their heartbreaking journey where they wish to some day become surgically separated. Don't get me wrong however; this is a genius novel, a psychological literary drama that shall pull at all your heartstrings. But don't let that detract you from enjoying it as there are beautiful moments within, all the way to such a realistic ending, I actually felt like clapping my hands at the end of it and raising a glass of kosher whiskey.

From the beginning, Faith seems to me the weaker of the twins, finding strength in Hope until the closing parts of the story, where Faith has grown to be the stronger. At the start of the novel, the young girls face a trying time at the foster home. One of my memorable quotes there was:

“The principal gave us a sharp look that immediately accused us of all our past wrong-doings and of our future ones, too, including, first and foremost, the fact that we had the audacity to be born...”

This to me set the tone of the book and the hardships that Faith and Hope shall endure in their life, and that they only have each other to rely on.
The girls are all but children, but the way Faith approaches life, at times sardonically dark with a poetic sense of humour mixed in, gives one the feeling that she is wise beyond her years, and not in a way that children should be. Hardened to life and accepting her fate in it, another memorable quote that Igor Eliseev, the fantastic author of One-Two, displays is:

“It sometimes feels like you and I are at the movie theater, sitting next to each other and watching the same movie. People say something, argue incessantly, even fight, but it is all somewhere else, somewhere far away, on the other side of the screen, and we are just passive onlookers unable to affect the course of events.”

I shall be honest in this review, as I always am. There are some truly depressing parts in the story where you feel so terrible for what Faith and Hope have to endure as they take you on their pursuit of surgically-separated-happiness, that you actually feel a pain, wondering how monstrous humans are capable of being. But through it all, their strength to survive, their strength to keep on moving, is both beautiful and poignant. As an example of their depths of despair, when the conjoined twins suffered one of their first major setbacks, Faith asked of Hope:

“Hope, tell me how it is possible that grief and happiness are scattered all over the world so unevenly? Why do some people get all the troubles and misfortunes while others are intoxicated with an abundance of material belongings, fat bellies and money? Why is there such injustice? Or, maybe, we are mistaken that it's unfair?”

And another philosophical quote which displays Faith's view of the world, through her young eyes,

“People have no limits either in love or in hatred. But is it their fault? They despise us because they are afraid, for we remind them that getting crippled or sick might happen to anyone; or, perhaps, the true reason for their hatred lies much deeper inside, stemming from a hidden ugliness in their souls?”

In overall, I enjoyed this literary masterpiece by a Russian author (Igor Eliseev) writing in English. One-Two is a tragic drama which though slow-moving, is entrancing with its prose and deep insights. More than once, uncountable really, it made me think of life and how I treat others less fortunate than myself (not that I was a bad person to begin with before you go there!) I do believe that reading this book once is definitely not enough, and I see myself reading it a few more times in my lifetime. Thank you, Igor Eliseev, in giving the world this amazing and extraordinary tale!

Thank you Mark!

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Books by Igor Eliseev / Historical fiction / Books from Russia


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book. It certainly looks like it impacted you in more ways than one.

    1. After Mark's persuasive review here I am now looking forward to reading my own copy. One-Two should be a fascinating book :-)

    2. Thank you, Joyous Reads. This really was a remarkable tale and well worth the 5* rating I gave it!
      Mark Benjamin

  2. I have only read one other book about conjoined twins and that was One by Sarah Crossan. But this one has a historical element to it as well, which makes it sounds especially interesting to me :)

    1. Definitely worth the read, Olivia! You won't regret it!
      Mark Benjamin

    2. I've only read a short story by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on conjoined twins. It's an interesting premise.

  3. I was introduced to this novel set in Perestroika Russia when it was Guest Reviewed for Literary Flits. A tale of conjoined twins, Faith and Hope, the story depicts their life from the time they are sent to an orphanage and it's not a happy tale, but is rewarding to read. I appreciated Eliseev's sensitive and sympathetic descriptions of the twins sufferings, both physical and mental. He doesn't pile on the sentimentality regarding their disability, instead showing them as individuals stranded in an inhospitable environment. The desperation of most of the characters is what truly shone through for me. Even apparently heartless people are seen to be in the same struggle, often for the absolute basics of existence, and Eliseev's scenes of despair are often heartbreaking.