Sasha Goldberg is a complicated antihero: the daughter of a black man who was adopted by a Jewish couple growing up at the very end of the Soviet era in a scrabbling Siberian town that just barely feeds itself by mining asbestos, Sasha has any number of factors working against her. She wants to be an artist, but she's not very talented; she's not quite savvy enough to avoid getting herself into some life-altering jams. In the end, she decides to go to America as a mail order bride.
I enjoyed reading Petropolis. It was billed to me as a modern satire, and so I was highly skeptical about it, but although the characters are often larger (or fatter or louder or more ridiculous) than life, it is really more of a straight-up novel, the story of a girl from Russia whose hapless story offers a sharp critique of Soviet, post-Soviet, and American culture.
What I liked best about the book was the writing. The author's voice is tight and original, which is even more impressive to me because I know that she, like her narrator, came to America as a young adult. There is not so much an umbrella plot that ties up neatly as there is an ambient feel that you, the reader, are simply experiencing a piece of Sasha's saga. While this might frustrate some readers, it makes the reality of the story a little more vivid.
I really, really wish, though, that someone had stopped her from rotating tense--the first part in past tense, the second in present, etc. Why can't you just commit to one? Why? Alas.