This one will be always be a memorable one. My first lockdown read.
Since March, this bookworm who zipped through titles found it hard to read a page. I had not anticipated this when I was scrambling to stock up library books (before they closed) with the same urgency as I had stocked my kitchen cupboards.
But with lockdown, I found it hard to to get through few pages of a novel. It was comforting to hear from the online reading community that they had it too. But for a stay-at-home mum who sought liberation in school hours, homeschooling and a lack of routine hit hard. It led to a restlessness that refused to shift.
This copy with its arresting cover came as a hopeful, welcome recourse. However, reading about a mother stuck with a baby in the city of Kiev did not seem like a great idea at the time. The sense of claustrophia felt unusually familiar. It will be like seeing myself on the pages, was the fear. I was wrong. It snapped me out of the slump.
This is Kiev in the 90s and Rachel a young mother has joined her journalist husband with her baby, Ivan. She struggles to cope with her situation, in a foreign city where everything from language to way of life feels different. She socialises with her husband's work colleagues, but they are not her friends. And then a much needed gift turns up. But it doesn't feel right and brings consequences with it. Rachel turns to unlikely acquaintances for help. She questions whether this is the right while oscillating between the present and the past...
What I liked:
- The title creates instant interest, injecting an element of the exotic. Despite being armed with google info, I was curious to find out how it fitted with the story. The connection blends beautifully with the narrative.
- The eye catching jacket matches the compelling narrative. The sense of unease, the city with its poverty stricken, wrecked buildings transported me to a different place (a boon at the moment).
- I found myself accompaning Rachel as she explored the city by road and on foot, something that could be only dreamed of at the moment. Her irrational quirks make sense and the characters feel real and relatable.
- As Rachel made choices, I found myself reading on furiously, swept along by the narrative.
- Loved the intricatly weaved personal and the historical strands in the story and how the city has a solid presence throughout the book. Its shortlisting for the Edward Standford travel writing award is richly deserved.
Go for it. Reading it is like stepping out of your doorstep into another world altogether.