Beneath the Darkest Sky

Written by Jason Overstreet
Review by Loyd Uglow

American Foreign Service worker and former FBI agent Prescott Sweet finds the enticement of working in Stalin’s Soviet Union during the mid-1930s too tantalizing to resist. The fact that he is African American in an era of segregation and discrimination in the United States is the main impetus for his decision. He and his talented wife, Loretta, long to be accepted for themselves rather than receiving the second-class status their own nation affords them, and they see the Soviet Union as a chance for them and their two adolescent children to finally live in a free and equal society. Their dream is quite different, however, from the reality that slowly emerges for the family. The murderous Stalinist regime has gripped the entire nation in a paranoid stranglehold, and the Sweets are not immune. Drawn inexorably into a system of terror that brutalizes its own citizens and foreign residents alike, Prescott Sweet must call on every skill he possesses to try to save those he loves.

Author Jason Overstreet alternates chapters from the novel’s present with chapters from several years earlier, in a way that gives the past events more immediacy than a standard flashback would, and eventually, the past catches up with the present. The book has a few stylistic shortcomings. For example, so much information comes out in dialogue and exposition that it may overwhelm the reader, and some descriptions sound more like written articles than ideas conveyed through the eyes and voice of the characters. Some deep political conversations may lose the reader. Characterization, on the other hand, is this novel’s strongest facet. From the beginning, Overstreet succeeds admirably in winning the reader’s sympathy for Prescott and Loretta and achieving a balance between their desire for dignity and equality and their inescapable identity as Americans.