Heads You Win is Jeffrey Archer’s newest release. The novel reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories my kids use to devour. However, Archer divides story into two versions. Of course, the reader is compelled to read both. Fortunately, the author is skilled so the divergent plots are entertaining.
Book One or the first thirty pages is straightforward. The story opens in 1968 Leningrad. The focus is the Karpenko family. Konstantin, a dock worker secretly organizing a labor union, his wife Elena, a renowned cook for the officers stationed at the dock and their son Alexander comprise the key characters. Alexander, the protagonist in both plot threads, is an extremely bright, loyal, dedicated young man.
Secondary characters at Leningrad include Vladimir, another ambitious young man and a classmate to Alexander. Also, Major Polyakov, a villain in the story is introduced. Finally Kolya, Elena’s brother that aids in mother and son’s escape to the West.
Flip of a Coin
Alexander flips a coin in order to decide whether to flee to Great Britain or the United States of America. It is at this point Archer could confuse some readers. Frequently,the characters lament the coin toss and the what-ifs. For the most part the divergent story lines are both entertaining.
In order to keep the stories straight, Alexander becomes Sasha in Great Britain and Alex in the U.S.A. The author creates some parallels. Elena remains a chef in both countries and becomes a restaurateur in both. Archer continues the parallel with both copies of Alexander marrying women interested and linked to the art world. Indeed, the two versions of the man have quite a few coinciding events.
Heads You Win Differences
Yet, perhaps the most interesting (to this reader) was the somewhat stereotypical attributes given each man depending on which country was featured. Alex, the American, chose entrepreneurship over politics and post-graduate education. Whereas, Sasha’s interest in top educational accolades and the political theater almost ruins the family business.
Another key difference is the American involvement in Vietnam. This particular side plot provides a deep look into the character of Alex. The same depth was not repeated in Sasha. But, in many ways the British version of Alexander created more sympathy with this reader.
Perhaps the only disappointment with this novel surfaces at the end. Unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books, only one Alexander can continue. The two merge back to one in a plausible if contrived manner. Plus, Archer adds a bit of a political twist that for this reader did not really add anything. But others may disagree.
Heads You Win is certainly entertaining. Those of you looking for gift ideas might consider buying a copy for your favorite bookworm. The novel keeps one cheerfully oblivious on airplanes full of children excited for both Christmas and Mickey Mouse.