With job opportunities scarce in post–Soviet Union Ukraine, Julia decides to go with her two sisters to the wealthy nation of Luxembourg to seek a seemingly lucrative form of income. Finding herself as a bar girl whose goal it is to sell customers champagne, she soon launches into prostitution, since the men frequenting these types of bars are looking to do much more than get drunk on expensive drinks. Dealing with a variety of sexual deviants—many of them sad, some of them sadistic—Julia learns to treat her trade as if it were any other job. Though the hazard of frequently drinking to excess take its toll, Julia’s life is relatively safe compared to when she decides to try her hand at prostitution in Istanbul. Heading east without the support of her sisters, she experiences new levels of depravity even if her attitude remains relatively upbeat: “I am not feeling used and have nothing to complain about. It is my choice to do what I am doing.” As an addiction to cocaine blossoms, however, readers might wonder just what sort of mess Julia will find herself in next and if she’ll ever be able to get out of it. Neither glamorizing Julia’s occupation (she must do a lot of awful things) nor demonizing it (she’s a prostitute by her own decision, making much more money than she would in her home country), the novel succeeds in treating Julia as a real person. While most supporting characters—particularly Julia’s largely interchangeable fellow prostitutes—leave little impression and aren’t especially memorable, Julia appealingly comes across as an empathetic, if reckless, protagonist. Charged with some disturbing sexual scenes (including rape), the book manages a steady, readable flow as it shines a light on the multifaceted world of the European sex trade.
Many characters lack much in the way of depth, yet the story as a whole offers a revealing glimpse of a taboo way of making a living.