Yuri Balodis has picked the wrong time to become a socialist. The Berlin Wall is crumbling, and the 16-year-old protagonist of Red Weather, Pauls Toutonghi's first novel, finds himself increasingly at odds with his Latvian refugee parents who love American capitalism so much that they hang Coca-Cola ads on their living-room wall. Yuri's flirtation with communism proves to be just the first of many adolescent phases that include stealing, drinking, and sexual confusion. The rightful focus of the book is Yuri's father, Rudolfs, who quixotically embraces his adopted home of Milwaukee while ignoring his own rather pathetic identity as an alcoholic night janitor. The genuine lessons he tries to impart to his son often fall on deaf ears, and Yuri's obliviousness or indifference to the world becomes increasingly frustrating. While Toutonghi's observations of his fairly obviously fictionalized father are precise ("I certainly could imagine another, more sober, life for him. But then he wouldn't have had that thing he savored—the visceral burn of the bourbon—in his mouth"), his descriptions never leap out of the ordinary, and his habit of summarizing Yuri's emotions never lets us discover the boy for ourselves.

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