What's it about? The book centres around the stories of Nadya, a Ukrainian mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, living in Chicago, who while observing the daily, religious and seasonal rituals of her Ukrainian culture and upbringing, seeks to hide her past from those near and dear to her.
What did I like? The insight into Ukrainian folklore, myth, religion, the stories of Nadya's family and culture. The rituals, the observations of spirits, dreams, and ancestors and the internal conflict this effected in Nadya. The stories are well-written and, to my mind, well observed by Valya Dudycz Lupescu. These aspects were fascinating to me. The story alternates between the present, and the past, but the reminiscences are not kept in chronological order either and this lends an air of true, internal dialogue. When we remember our past, triggered by a smell, a sight, a feeling, we don’t always return to the moment immediately after the last we last visited, but go direct to the time of the memory triggered. The memory triggers that Valya Dudycz Lupescu invokes felt true and real, as did the beliefs in spirit of the characters; it always read as natural, not forced. The ending was not all tied up neatly, something I enjoy in some stories, though the reader is left with a sense of what is to come. This was nicely done.
What didn't I like? I had no understanding as to Nadya's reasoning for doing what she did in attempting to keep her past hidden; I just could not fathom it. I had more sympathy/empathy with other characters and their experiences through the Second World War, and their subsequent behaviour than I did with the main character. It never felt quite right with Nadya. I wish I had chosen to read, rather than listen to this book. I have to say that I did not enjoy, or take pleasure in the narration style of Xe Sands: It was too soft, too breathy and husky, seemingly draining energy from the stories. There was an attempt at voice characterisation, but this did not work for me at all. The long silences between chapters also felt unnecessary. I feel I ought to have read the book and heard the voices of the characters in my head, some needed voices that were as strong as their characters, which I felt was missing in the audiobook. My rating loses a star for my lack of connection to the main character, and another star because of the audio rendition. I would probably rate the written text four stars.
Would I recommend it? Yes. I would recommend the written texts to several friends interested in history, folklore, myth, magic and the art storytelling. Valya Dudycz Lupescu has written, rather woven a beautiful story, full of wisdom and tenderness.