I realise that is is probably a bit unusual to recommend another blog, but alittleblogofbooks.com is rather special. First of all, it is full of proper reviews, indeed the author gets review copies which confirms that. Furthermore, she follows a number of literature prizes that I don’t and also is on several Shadow Panels for well know book prizes. I am an ardent follower, and while I don’t want anyone to desert me, I do recommend you go there to check it out.
The reason I am telling you about it here is that my next book comes straight from her recommendation.
To read Judith Heneghan‘s novel, Snegurochka is to step into a labyrinth of suspicion, foreignness and misunderstandings which almost defy description. Basically, Rachel arrives in Kiev with her young baby of a few months, to join her husband, Lucas, who seems to be freelancing for the BBC Foreign Desk. As a new mother, Rachel is battling all the anxieties and unsteadiness of the unfamiliar, along with a poor or near non-existent grasp of the language, all she has with her are enough Pampers for a few months, a copy of Jurassic Park and breastmilk. She is beset by exterior anxieties as well as the normal interior doubts of a first-time mother, one of these being the danger of having a child on the thirteenth floor of a high rise block.
The reader can quickly see that Rachel is a complicated and probably OCD-stressed woman. If you worry about your baby falling from the balcony when he cannot walk you are beset by something deeper than the superficial fear of him falling; let alone your identification with the baby raptors who climb in through the window left open in a fantasy novel. The people she meets, especially the natives of Kiev: the caretaker Elena (the woman in Jurassic Park was called Elena, she left the window open), the strange roller-skating boy upstairs, Stepan, Zoya, Lucas’ driver and translator and the unusually helpful stranger, Mykola Sirko all of them increase her nervousness; then there are all the Europeans who she meets, colleagues or co-workers in the media business, kindly people who don’t understand her situation, or if they do, pity her.
Snegurochka translates approximately as “snow child” and is a famous trope in Russian fairy stories, it has many variations, but basically tells of an elderly couple who long for a baby, one winter they make a snow child…most of the variations end badly.
It is easy to see why this title comes attached to this novel. Rachel arrives in Kiev in the autumn of 1992, only six years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, geographically this is around eighty four miles away. Even though Lucas has a Geiger counter, Rachel is constantly worried about contamination, so breastfeeding for as long as possible is essential. The sense of impending doom, the imprint of past horrors, the shadow of even more distant horrors and the reputation for spying on one’s neighbours remains a constant drum beat throughout the book, and Rachel has no real friends. Her mother and English friends think she is insane to take her baby there, and clearly many of the women there also think she is crazy. So is she a bad mother? Or just a new mother with anxiety?
This is a gripping and fascinating peek into a world far removed from our own comfortable existence, Bosnia is where the trouble is in this book, who knew what was in store for Ukraine in 2014?
Other reading: I have been sent a book list by one of my readers which she says I can share with you, there is some crossover but also a lot of interesting titles that I shall be reading myself in due course.