My rating: 5 of 5 stars
wow, feels like weeks since i wrote a book review… possibly because this book is 30 hours of audio. and worth every hour.
Oksana Zabuzhko is Ukrainian. never read a Ukrainian writer before, always happy to have internationalia. this story is set in Kiev, for the most part, and covers from WWII to contemporary times.
our heroine, the writer/producer/star/director of a contemporary tv show, comes across a WWII-era photo of five Ukrainian guerrilla fighters in the woods. one of the fighters is a woman. our heroine, Daryna, is immediately sucked in: who is this woman? what happened to her? and why does she feel weird shivers around the whole scene?
this is a huge novel–not just long but including everything you can imagine: love, fighting, betrayal, contemporary Ukrainian political life, Stalin, GW Bush, antiques, pregnancies, sexual harassment in the workplace, homemade pickles, children’s games, and endless wonderful detours into philosophizing, observations, “wtf?” questions, and commentary on contemporary life. if i had ever got through Proust i might compare it to his writing + cussing, but it would probably be a bad comparison, because the worlds men see and the worlds women see might as well be in different dimensions a lot of the time.
better: it’s like drinking really fine ambrosia from a firehose.
i don’t think this novel is for everyone. people who are plot-based are going to toss it across the room and scream “get on with it!” it’s really much more of a meander than a superhighway, and it can be a challenge to put aside one’s impatience to know the who/what/when and follow the author along her digressions.
i don’t know whether this sort of lazily unspooling writing is common among Ukrainian writers (i hope so, it would say a lot about those writers and Ukrainian readers, too). could be the author is an outlier. i’d be really curious to know. anyway it’s a very different experience than what i’m used to, but one i’d like very much to get used to. i’m certain this book would deeply reward any number of re-readings, and i plan to do so as often as i can slow myself down to do it.
by the way, there is a particularly fine review of this book at Bookslut.