The novel pairs Alice Liddell – an American banker brought in to Moscow to help dismantle the old communist system – and Lev – the enigmatic owner of the Red October vodka distillery, parliamentary deputy and leader of the Russian vory – in a plot that revolves around the privatisation of Lev’s Red October, the fights between the Russian and Chechen mafias to take control over Moscow, and a manhunt for a serial killer who targets orphaned children. Set in the early 1990s post-perestroika Russia, Vodka’s real protagonist is the country itself, unable to leave behind its old systemic failures and plunging headlong into an uncertain democratic and capitalist twenty-first century in which the souls of the poor and the wretched of the earth are lost through the crush of everyday life. At the end of the day, the wind of change that sweeps through the old Soviet Union does not manage to erase the deficiencies of a country that, by comparison, makes the West look like paradise, described in the novel as a “banana republic. Without the bananas” (Starling 2005: 73), a “shithole … [that] could have inspired Dante to rework his Inferno” (Starling 2005: 59), a world characterized by tragedy with onions as its perfect symbol since “[o]nions have multiple layers, and the more you peel away, the more you weep” (Starling 2005: 220). In a novel populated by killers, torturers, mafia members, psychopaths, and terrorists, Russia is the true monster, “a society in decline and at war with itself,” “created by the old system and nurtured by the new, forged in the white heat of a revolution ushered through without the first thought for what it would do to … the little ones, the forgotten ones” (Starling 2005: 531, 548).