Review: “Map of the City” by Valerie Laken

Review: “Map of the City” by Valerie Laken

Moscow, 1991
Moscow, 1991

Photo credit: BBC News

In “Map of the City” the narrator is in some ways a typical Midwestern college-age girl. She’s trying to find her place, fit in, navigate relationships with men, learning how to become her own, independent person, but Laken adds the complexity of Moscow in 1991 to the mix. The young woman is a foreign exchange student, just when the Soviet Union is collapsing. We get an inside view of the riots and the economic hardships, but the narrator is still separate. It’s not her country, not her language, no matter how hard she tries to fit in.

I liked how Laken let us see the woman’s relationships honestly. She’s not in love with the men in her life, but she enjoys their company. The writing is wonderful, descriptive and authentic, seeing a truly historical time through the lens of one woman’s experience.

“Map of the City” is included in Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken, which you can purchase on Amazon or from an Indie bookstore. I read it on-line at Fifty-Two Stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Published April 1, 2011 by Harper Perennial
9,436 words

Story source: On-line

Short Story Monday is hosted at Book Mine Set.


  1. Sounds like a really interesting backdrop and time period for a book. I like how you pointed out that the narrator is “in some ways a typical Midwestern college-age girl”. I suppose this is more contemporary than historical fiction, but I love when political events of the past are told in novels from the perspective of a character who is easy to relate to. It always makes me think about how I would have lived/thrived/reacted during the setting.

  2. I love the recent historical setting of this novel as I can still recall the drama of the period (Gorbachev shunted aside, the old KGB guard taking a last stand and Yeltsin leading the way for a new Russia). Sounds like a wonderful read!

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