I am tempted by books set in places I’ve never read about, much less visited. Ella Leya’s The Orphan Sky is set in Baku, Azerbaijan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Leila, the teenaged daughter of curiously wealthy parents, is working towards fame as a concert pianist when she is given an assignment to tail a suspicious person by her Komsomol leader. This assignment, taken to prove her dedication to the cause, is the turning point in Leila’s life. After this assignment, her charmed life rapidly loses its shine and she must endure tragedy after tragedy.
The first half of this book is good. Leila shows us around Baku, from the apartment building that houses some of the city’s elite to the bazaar to the Maiden Tower and the Old City. She’s also our guide into the world of the Soviet Union’s future cultural elite. Leila’s days are filled with practicing piano and Komsomol meetings. Everything is perfect. But when the revelations about her father hit and Leila is framed for anti-Soviet activities, things take a distinct turn for the melodramatic.
I commented on Litsy that I could tell the exact moment when the author lost focus. After Leila’s father is revealed as a pederast, characters start to change emotions from enraged to depressed to forgiving with the drop of a sentence. The descriptions of settings become much less lush. There are parts that read like brief encyclopedia entries. The closer I got to the end, the worse it got. I can’t recommend this book, even for the setting, I’m afraid. There are too many problems in the second half.