Book Review: Petroleum Venus

Frodor, a reasonably successful young architect signed away his legal rights to Vanya, his now fourteen-year-old son with Down syndrome shortly after the boy was born. Although Vanya spent much of his time with his overly zealous grandmother, it was Frodor who did most of the parenting and he resented being chained to an idiot child. While out on a short walk along the roadside, Vanya witnessed a car accident the left the driver, the well-known painter Georgy Sazonov dead. Vanya removed a painting from the car and brought it back to his father who recognized the piece as being a real piece of art. Torn between keeping the painting for profit and because Vanya liked it so much or attempting to return the piece to its proper owner, Frodor took the path of least resistance and did nothing. A bizarre series of coincidences unfolds as Frodor and Vanya inadvertently bump into the painter’s relatives, entwining their lives as they discover the identity of the woman in the painting and more. Tragically, it is not until Frodor loses what is most important that he realizes the treasure he had.

Translated from the original Russian text, this poignant tales vacillates between absurdity and tragedy as Frodor’s tale unfolds. Frodor’s conflicted feelings of frustration are believable as he deals with the intellect of a child in a man’s body who cannot be left alone nor trusted to carry out anything beyond the simplest instructions. While the story could easily become quite dark, the fast pace and strange coincidences keep the tone lively even has it spirals to the sad yet hopeful conclusion.

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