Review: Perestroika by João Cerqueira

About the Book, Perestroika Perestroika

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Arkbound (November 26, 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 448 pages

Eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth

Perestroika is a historical fiction novel that provides thrilling insights into the late Communist era. The book opens in 1978 and introduces citizens of Slavia like artist Ludwig Kirchner, struggling to survive in concentration camps, whilst the terrifying elites of the regime live in luxury and moral depravity. It all changes in 1989, with Perestroika. In the revolutionary turmoil, former crime boss Ivan Fiorov leads the newly formed ‘Freedom Party’, heralding a wave of insecurity that resembles the previous dictatorship.

Revenge, redemption and catharsis collide head on with recent European history. With Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, alongside a resurgence of populist leaders and neo-Nazi movements across the world, Perestroika is as much a lens into the present as an exciting epitome for the past.

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About the Author, João Cerqueira Joao-Cerqueira

João Cerqueira was born and lives in Viana do Castelo, Portugal. He holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Porto, he is a professor at ESE and a columnist for the newspaper Sun.

He is the author of nine books and is published in eight countries. His novels use satire and humor to address human nature and contemporary problems. He tries to continue the literary tradition that goes from “Cantigas de Escárnio and Maldizer” to Eça de Queiroz and Camilo, without forgetting Gil Vicente, Camões and Bocage.

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

I’m late in reviewing Perestroika because it’s a novel that requires careful attention. It’s historical fiction, based in the invented nation of Slavia which is a stand-in for several (too many) former Soviet Bloc countries. It’s a portrait of a small country caught up in the changes that happened in Europe during the Gorbachev era, and the echoes of what is still changing.

The use of a fictional country allows author Cerqueira to blend real history with created history. Events feel plausible because they’re inspired by truth, though the names have been changed and serial numbers filed off.

Subtitled “Eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth” the core of the story is about dynamic characters who are each facing their own challenges. Those which I was particularly interested in are former President Ionescu, a man who longer has the power or control he once did; Helena, who is responsible for education and is the ray of goodness and hope in an otherwise bleak landscape, and Olin, a dedicated father trying to give his disabled son a decent life.

Author Cerqueira has given us a story set in somewhat heightened-reality versions of the two time periods where it takes place: 1978, where we first learn of Slavia and the communist regime in power, and 1989, when Glasnost has become common. What makes it really compelling is the vivid, almost cinematic, description the author has provided. You don’t just read this novel, you experience it.

If you’re a fan of hardcore, sometimes brutal, historical fiction, or are interested in the politics of equality and human rights, this book is perfect for you. It’s the perfect combination of tragedy and hope, politics and art, truth and imagination.

Goes well with: potato-leek soup and hard cider.