A collection of short stories about the Eastern European experience in both the old country and the new.
As the Iron Curtain descended over Eastern Europe in the mid-20th century, a steady flow of emigrants fled to begin new lives in North America. Yakimov (Ashes of Wars, 2011) imagines a series of personal histories for both those who ventured west and those who stayed behind. Part I paints a picture of a modern Canada, a melting pot of ethnicities where there’s tolerance for cultural differences but perhaps not yet true mutual understanding and equality. In an apparently autobiographical story, “Resume of an Engineer,” a female engineer struggles to regain the respect and professional footing she enjoyed in Europe. In the title story, a man, despite having mixed feelings about both the old country and the new, acts as a go-between for fellow immigrants. Part II explores lives that continue to be lived in a changed Europe amid political upheaval, from the forced redistribution of land to the pervasiveness of alcoholism. “Zorah’s cottage,” the defining story here, is a history of a family home in which hope and contentment briefly rekindle, flicker, then die out. Yakimov writes evocatively and with lush expressiveness: “Thick, heavy mist hangs over the flanks of the peak and the mountains, spread out to both sides of it like a white shroud suspended from the sky.” Yet bleakness pervades her narratives. Her characters suffer—both from internal and external causes—and moments of happiness are tempered by troubles that remain unchanged by fortune or geography: family conflict, addiction, loneliness, difference, etc. A recurring theme throughout the stories is the immigrant returning to his or her homeland in the post-Communist era only to find that the reality no longer matches the memory. It’s a familiar motif, but Yakimov (who, like many of her characters, immigrated to Canada as an adult) handles it deftly, managing to avoid the obvious clichés.
A thoughtful, intense read that will appeal to fans of the short story format, used here to great effect.