Daniil and Vanya

It’s a familiar story in the North American psyche, a culture of people who are perhaps too eager to adopt, snatching up the first child that becomes available, putting full trust in their adoption agency with reckless blindness towards the traumatic and toxic conditions of those unregulated orphanages: a bright-eyed couple adopts a child from Russia only to find that they suffer from reactive attachment disorder (read: a childhood-trauma-induced lack of empathy that exhibits similarly to sociopathy).

In this case of Toronto-based French-Canadians Emma and Gregory, their twins Daniil and Vanya, adopted from Russia at 15 months old, quickly exhibit signs that something isn’t quite right. In their desperation to build a happy family following the traumatic loss of a pregnancy, the couple attributes the twins oddities to the jarring shift in culture and to their sudden, ill-prepared thrust into parenthood. 

Through a fast-paced 256 pages, readers experience Emma’s desperation, loneliness, and inevitable self-blame punctuated with brief, but oddly placed, narratives from a pubescent Daniil and Vanya that are eerily narrated from a first-person-plural perspective: “Our voice is sharp, with ridiculous accents. We’ve always hated it.” Their morphed voice further emphasizes to what extent the boys have cultivated an obsessive brotherly identity that shuns not only their parents but also their peers.

Though the writing is largely clunky and peppered with artificial dialogue (perhaps the result of an unsatisfactory translation), its daring venture into vulgarity and the impermissible topics of sadistic and sexual violence of minors urges the plot forward in an eager search for resolution and retribution. While the abrupt ending may not provide the closure sought (it certainly didn’t in my case), it did raise critical questions regarding the social responsibility of adoptive parents and the lasting, interpersonal effects of childhood trauma.

Daniil and Vanya is a book that can be read quickly, that has high shock value, and that will keep you thinking for a couple of days in its wake, but it’s far from life-changing and all too forgettable.

Thank you to NetGalley and Invisible Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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