A young girl must harness the power of her maternal line to help her mother in this debut novel.
Angela lives for the beauty of Ukraine in a simple life with her mother, Lyuda. While Angela discovers that she can become a bird, Lyuda slips into a depression, aided by the vodka she sips at night. Her own mother is dead, Angela’s father has left them, and while Lyuda’s childhood friend Sveta is their neighbor, she has not spoken to her in years. One afternoon by the river, Angela meets the spirit of her grandmother and is tasked with bringing out the memories in Lyuda that haunt her. The ethereal realm collides with reality as Lyuda is shown a different life: one where Volodiya, Angela’s father, stays to love her and provide her with an elegant home. But something is missing from this alternative universe: there is no daughter. She aches for Sveta’s daughter, Maria, to be her own, even as heartbreaking news about her own fertility is revealed. Which life is more worth living, the one without Volodiya, or the one without Angela? The spirit of her mother and daughter both will have to work hard to bring epiphany to Lyuda’s heavy heart. The scenery that Meriel’s tale inhabits is lush, with lilac bushes, golden sunshine, and delicious food. The narration switches liberally from character to character and from first person to third person, which can make it occasionally hard to follow, especially when Angela assumes her bird form. But while the magical realism of this evocative novel is sometimes-opaque, the story is never lost, grounded in Lyuda’s internal monologue and vivid memories. There are some chapters that lack nuance, such as the scenes written from Volodiya’s perspective, that of a young man burdened by his abusive father and, later, Lyuda’s pregnancy. By far, the book’s women are the most compelling characters, especially when Lyuda’s hard-earned acceptance of one of her paths is expressed in the final chapters.
Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world, especially if they can follow the more magical plotlines.