Sarah Armstrong’s latest offering, The Wolves of Leninsky Propekt, follows a student who has been sent down from Cambridge University for demonstrating for equal rights. In a bid to escape her parents and make a fresh start Martha (Marta) marries her gay best friend, Kit, a diplomat in Moscow, and goes out to discover the Russia of the early 1970’s. She packs up her life in England and, complete with some Russian books she has picked up at the library, including a thin booklet by E V Mann of Russian folk tales, she leaves for Russia. Young, idealistic and naive she sets out to experience the life of the native people, however, it quickly becomes clear that she has very little freedom and she is eventually drawn into a dangerous situation which she cannot resolve.
The narrative, told in first person by protagonist Marta, is interspersed with chapters written in a poetic style by Mann, the author of the Russian Folk Tales booklet Marta picked up in the library. These chapters appear to be completely separate from the rest of the story making understanding of the novel trickier. They also add a haunting quality to the story which follows the interaction between the characters and an ongoing undercurrent of tension as the reader tries to piece together who they can trust.
Armstrong writes in a fast flowing style which is easy to read and holds reader attention from beginning to end. The book shows an insight into life in post-war Russia where food was very scarce and of poor quality, people lived without any modern conveniences and there were no shops to purchase them. Despite this apparent gloom Armstrong does however manage to convey the lost beauty of a city destroyed and a culture determined to survive despite the privation.