With gratitude to Hashem, I announce the long-overdue release of my second Russian historical, The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks. It’s set from 6 September 1924–11 December 1930, in New York City; Sea Cliff, Long Island; the USSR (specifically, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus); and rural Minnesota (a fictional Russian–American farming town called Firebird Fields, near Duluth).
I developed the idea for a sequel to my first Russian historical in 1995, and carried it around in my head, memorized backwards and forwards, for half of my life. I originally began it in August 2001, but only wrote a few chapters, and wasn’t able to locate them later.
I’m glad I didn’t actually write this story till I was 31. At all of 21, I could never have written it the way it needed to be. While my chapter-by-chapter notes from 2001 were very much used in crafting the finished product, I diverged from them in a number of places, and added many new storylines. Additionally, I only knew Lyuba as Amy (her original, decidedly UN-Russian name).
Amy was a rather passive puppet who was acted upon instead of acting, and had no real motivations or struggles beyond clichés and generalities. Lyuba fights to overcome her demons, and break free of the abnormal thought patterns resulting from her dysfunctional childhood. Making her a knowing, deliberate adulteress would make as much sense as Scarlett still chasing Ashley after finally realising Rhett is the only man for her. Lyuba underwent too much emotional growth to revert all of a sudden.
Hence, Boris takes advantage of her when she’s not in control of all her senses. It’s the same black moment I planned at fifteen, only executed much differently.
Lyuba and Ivan’s happy marriage begins creeping towards disaster when Ivan comes home late on their first anniversary. While Lyuba struggles to raise their children and keep house in their Lower East Side tenement, largely existing off the large amount of savings they brought from Russia, Ivan is content to be the lapdog of Mr. Glazov, the Russian Uncle Tom who runs the iron factory. His frequent late nights and sometimes staying several days in a row at work quickly take their toll on Lyuba, coupled with how Ivan often goes to visit his parents and pointless baby sister.
The Konevs’ marital troubles don’t escape the notice of their former best friend Boris, who’s beside himself with joy at the thought of finally getting Lyuba back and regaining his paternal rights over Tatyana. Boris also is determined to gain full legal custody of the children Lyuba has had with Ivan, and makes no secret of any of his feelings.
Ivan’s parents also quickly discover there’s trouble in paradise. At first, only his father believes Lyuba will cuckold him with Boris, but as time goes by, Ivan’s mother, once such a kind and loving person, turns against Lyuba as well. The senior Konevs’ relationship with Ivan, Lyuba, and their children eventually completely unravels, and Ivan becomes estranged from both his parents this time, not just his formerly abusive father.
Things go from bad to worse when Ivan quits his exploitative job at the iron factory and refuses to look for new work immediately, believing his new role as a househusband is his way of making up for all that time he wasn’t home, and atoning for the sin of being more devoted to his boss than his family. When Lyuba discovers they barely have any money left in the bank, she begins taking in washing, mending, and sewing, while Ivan starts repairing small machinery from home. To keep the wolf from the door, Lyuba secretly rekindles her friendship with the shunned Alya and Anya in exchange for regular monetary gifts.
A window of hope opens when their friends purchase land and houses in Minnesota. Lyuba expects her family will soon join them, but Ivan has nowhere near enough money to make their longtime dream of becoming farmers a reality. Though her stepfather has given Ivan a sales job at his rug-making factory, Ivan spends more time making friends than sales.
Finally, when Lyuba hits rock bottom, Ivan is woken up to how seriously their marriage is in trouble, and agrees to a temporary separation. He’ll go to Minnesota and live with Aleksey and Eliisabet’s family, while Lyuba will remain in New York and gradually resettle their children.
Lyuba is enjoying her time as an independent, working woman, and absence is making her heart grow fonder. But then, shortly before she’s due to join Ivan in Minnesota, something unexpected happens, and Boris, who has long been waiting for his former best friends’ marriage to crumble, takes advantage of the situation. By the time Lyuba recovers her senses, she knows it’s going to be difficult for Ivan to forgive her for her twelfth betrayal.