**ADVANCE FOR WEDNESDAY MARCH 12** In this photo released by Houghton Mifflin shows Edward Docx author of 'PRAVDA'. (AP Photo/Monica Curtin,Houghton Mifflin) - AP

'Pravda' describes a family torn by secrets, betrayal

The use of the Russian word for truth as the title for Edward Docx's novel, "Pravda," is interesting considering the family at the center of the saga has been living without truth for decades.

Parents keep secrets from their children. Siblings lie and hide the truth from each other. Rarely are the characters even honest with themselves.

Possibly Docx was thinking more about how "Pravda" was also the title of a Soviet-era newspaper that regularly printed propaganda and lies.

Docx's book, the second by the British writer, opens with Gabriel Clarke hurrying to post-Soviet St. Petersburg to find that his ailing mother, who defected during Soviet times and has only recently been allowed back into the country, has died. He and his twin sister Isabella, who are both estranged from their father, bury their mother, and attempt to go back to their lives in London and New York.

But their mother's death, and a subsequent visit by a Russian son they never knew she had who was raised in a Soviet orphanage, push them to question how much they knew either of their parents and make changes to their own lives.

Docx, 35, drew on his own family history in writing the book. When he was 13, his mother discovered that the man she believed to be her grandfather was actually her father. He'd had an affair with a Russian woman and then asked his grown son to raise the resulting child.

Like Gabriel Clarke who says in the opening line of the novel that he's "relieved to be again among the Russians," Docx's writing is at its most engaging and authentic when he's writing about St. Petersburg and its residents.

Through his descriptions of his mother's abandoned child, piano protege Arkady, and his heroin- addict English friend, Docx shows readers a city long famous for art, music and culture being marred by the darker forces of drugs and mafia.

Docx's descriptions of Russia and her customs ring true. People do rush from the plane to get to the front of the passport control lines of which there are never enough. Russian drivers, invariably behind the wheel of a rusty Lada with bald tires, do pick up people alongside the road to make an extra buck.

But outside of Russia, the family saga often loses its appeal. Perhaps Docx finds life in post-Soviet Russia to be so chaotic and engaging that everything else is boring and annoying in comparison because his characters outside of Russia are often exactly that.

Gabriel Clarke, who is disgusted with the way his philandering hurt his mother and who failed at most jobs, secretly juggles two women and a lowly editing job where he despises his co-workers. His sister Isabella flits from one career to the next, her "unforgiving mind" judging everyone in its path and finding them lacking.

Some of the plot points Docx uses to create the story and move it along are unrealistic. Arkady hunts down his family to coerce them to finish paying for his music education, but how many orphans raised in rundown, neglected Russian orphanages really learn the finer points of Chopin or Bach?

And it's hard to believe that a father so evil as to write a review in a newspaper deliberately slamming his own son's play or who tells his daughter, "I'm sick — sick to the back teeth — of you and your bloody brother," would ever be eager for a reconciliation with his children.

Overall, Docx does a strong job of describing a country in flux and a family trying to come to grips with past betrayals in their lives. Sometimes, the family is messy and annoying, but maybe that's the pravda or truth about any family.

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