This slender Russian novel about life during and after perestroika revolves around the titular Lizka, as she makes her way in the world. A typical small town girl, she moves to an unnamed big city as a teenager to attend nursing school. There, her story unfolds in a series of episodes or vignettes, as her encounters with various men prove to be catalysts for change in her life. (Her absent father sets the tone for this theme in the opening chapter, as his abandonment dooms Lizka and her mother to a disreputable future in the small town.)
While the women she befriends generally offer her comfort, solace, helpful hints, practical advise, and shoulders to cry on, the men are a mixed bag. There's a con artist who scams money from her, a cynical party hack who transforms into a free-marketeer, a disturbed veteran of the Chechen occupation, and a "man's man" of a trolley driver whom she marries and then divorces. Finally, in a slightly confusing transition, the book's narrator shows up as a poet, whom she falls in with.
Throughout the book, one gets the sense that Lizka and her men are supposed to symbolize elements of recent Russian history -- however the exact mapping of this is somewhat elusive to someone (like me) not well-versed in Russian social history. Is the portrait of Lizka merely meant to depict her transition into a confident woman, or is she meant to stand in for the Russian people? Taken in by con-men, complicit in the rise of corrupt oligarchs, vaguely threatened by wars of choice, unsatisfied with traditional roles, in search of basic human happiness and purpose? It's unclear (and perhaps that's the point), and the brevity of the book doesn't leave much room to explore anything in detail, however those with an interest in Soviet and post-Soviet history may find it worth the quick read.