Myka’s fiction debut is a collection of short stories set in Romania about the complications that arise—in suburban homes and in brothels, among families, friends, and lovers—when Romanian and Western cultures collide.
These stories focus on their characters' isolation as they struggle to find a place in an unfamiliar world. Although related, not all the stories are created equal. “Lessons in Romanian” and “Manna from Heaven” look at American women working in Romania and, in both the protagonists' alienation from and uncertainty about their environment, emphasize an estrangement from American culture as well. But while “Manna” uses food—more specifically live meat—as an engaging way to explore its subject, “Lessons” is a more cursory treatment, without intricacy or substance. Similarly, when the first story in the collection introduces us to Dragos, a boy living in a Romanian orphanage, it makes obvious connections that take expected, tiresome routes. Later, however, in “Song of Sleep,” we meet Dragos as an adult recently married to an American woman. What follows is a complicated, emotionally nuanced view of their relationship that manages to ring true to human experience while feeling as though it could take place only on a small farm in the remote Romanian countryside. The longest tale in the collection, “Song of Sleep” is perhaps also the strongest; we want Dragos' marriage to succeed, but the struggles it faces will not be denied, and the bleak realities of life on the farm only emphasize this. The most consistently compelling stories are those centered on Irina, following her from a 13-year-old surviving on the streets (“Rol Dobos”) to a young woman working in a brothel (“Palace Girls”). Her struggle to find agency in a world that thrives on the powerless is underscored by a forceful determination that leaves the reader both impressed and slightly afraid for her.
While the stories in this collection can be hit or miss, those that succeed are well-imagined and richly textured.