Friday, June 27, 2014

5 e-books featuring Ukraine

There aren't many e-books featuring Ukraine out there. A search on Amazon's Kindle store lists only 802 results; compare that number to almost 10,000 results for the same search in physical form!

Out of the 802 results on Amazon, here are a handful that you might want to check out:

1. The book I'd been waiting for

The Boy Who Stole from the Dead is the sequel to 2013's The Boy from Reactor 4. Long-time blog readers may remember my book review / cat photo shoot from last spring. I devoured The Boy from Reactor 4 in just a few days. All the travelling, the dramatic moments, the mystery behind this sullen teen boy and his tight grip on an old locket... it was impossibly good.

This sequel was much slower going though. The plot split into so many pieces that my mind had to work overtime to keep track of them. Independent Miss Nadia does numbers work for a questionable oligarch, reminisces about her childhood, dodges baddies with her idealistic brother in western Ukraine, and sends her lawyer-slash-best friend to interview her (perhaps innocent?) jailed nephew in New York. The lovestruck lawyer-slash-best friend runs around NYC trying to get information from both the nephew's beautiful girlfriend and a wannabe-reformed criminal backed by twin henchmen. Meanwhile, a hungry journalist combs through Alaskan bush villages and east-coast cities, circling the whole lot of them in an attempt to sniff out the real story. Phew!

For people with a Ukraine trip under their belt, all the detailed descriptions of food will bring back good memories. "She dabbed sour cream on the potato and cheese dumplings, and spooned cane sugar onto the cherry ones. She ate as slowly as she could to savour every bite." For those readers interested in Ukraine, the amount of history and culture wedged in around the plot is absolutely staggering. Prepare thyself.

One big difference between Books 1 & 2 is a much stronger anti-Russian, pro-Ukrainian sentiment. To quote the author's own words in the book, "Nationalist sentiment ran hot." Curious to know if this is due to what's happening right now in Ukraine or if it was planned all along but I don't recall such animosity in the first book. The language message is repeated over and over again: if you speak "proper" Ukrainian (or 'Uke'?, as it's called in the book), you're good, but if you speak Russian, you're evil. The bad guys are almost caricatures: they not only speak Russian but also wear seat belts, want the USSR to be recreated, and do a certain horrific thing I can't reveal here because hey, spoiler alert.

One quick note about the ending: Book 3, titled The Boy Who Glowed in the Dark, is slated to come out this December. Knowing that, I expected this book to end in a frustrating cliffhanger. It did end with a scene that captures the imagination (hint: expect Book 3 to take place in a faraway land we haven't visited!) yet the author did it in a completely satisfying way. This isn't an ending that will leave you hanging but rather, in excitement.

2. The book you have no excuse to skip reading

In Ukraine:
  • how many times a day is it proper to say "hello"?
  • what should you do if someone offers you a closed fist?
  • what's the right way to sit with crossed legs?
  • can you split a check in a restaurant? should you tip?
  • what's the deal with getting shortchanged?
  • why do university students get offended when you ask how school is going?
Red, White, Blue and Yellow: An American's Guide To Short-Term Missions In Ukraine is short, full of good info, and FREE! It was written by Brandon Price, an all-around cool guy who has spent several years living in Ukraine. Don't get put off by the "missions" in the book's title; this is not a preachy read. The missionary-oriented material, such as tips on cooperating successfully with translators, is good for the rest of us too.

Brandon's book is available as a free PDF download on his website or 99¢ on Amazon.

3. The book that should be sold with a box of tissues

Katya's story is unsettling. It's a story for children wrapped in tragedy. As I read this, it sometimes seemed way too heartbreaking for a grown woman to read, let alone children! Yet that's exactly what made it so compelling. How can you explain Chernobyl to school-age children? This is how. Radiant Girl paints the whole picture in a tale of crushes, superstition, and science. Get the book for free from Amazon.

4. The book I didn't read

One book I didn't get around to reading is the infamous pickup book Bang Ukraine: How To Sleep With Ukrainian Women In Ukraine. I know, I know, a bit of a strange choice to mention on this blog, but I'm fascinated by what other outsiders think of Ukraine and since the author spent 3 months here in Kharkiv, I was especially curious to see his opinion of the city. Unfortunately the chapter on Kharkiv was at the very end and I only read the free sample but it was still enough the get the gist of things. The author's selling tactic seems to be being as extreme as possible (and the following are not the most extreme things he said):

About Ukraine: Everything is wrong with it except for one thing: the women.... [a] backwards country... so far behind the rest of the world that I don't see how it can possibly catch up...

About women: femininity overload... excessive use of makeup... want to snag a successful local guy first (bonus points if he's in the mafia)...

About men: A fat Ukrainian man who looks like Jabba the Hutt will "paint over" himself with a Mercedes Benz...

About food: All you have to know about Ukrainian food is borsht...

About Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk: industrial cities from Soviet times that are ugly on a scale that you probably can't fathom...

Anyway, at $10, it's too much money for a skill I'd never use. Don't fear, though, for another blogger did read the book and wrote an excellent and extremely thorough review.

5. The book I (want to) read often

Babushka's Beauty Secrets, compiled by a esthetician with Ukrainian roots, has a more or less permanent spot in my Kindle's first few pages. It opens with the feel-good, slightly hokey story of a clever babushka who used whatever was available to beautify her fellow villagers. There are over 50 "secrets" in this book, covering everything from nail and hair care to using potatoes to banish puffy eyes. Some are a little silly, like the little-black-dress tip (watermelon + honeydew in a blender, drink) while others are quite unorthodox (rub lips with apple slice, apply butter on top). Unfortunately the verdict is still out on this one, as I've done more recipe-browsing than recipe-trying. Soon I'll have to narrow down my favorites (sooo many ideas!) and give them a shot. Luckily the ingredients required are so common that it'll take just a quick trip to the store to put this plan into action.

Four Honorable Mentions (Wanna-Reads)

1. Orwell and the Refugees: Part academic-read, part engrossing-family-tale, this is a steal at only 99 cents. I'm 22% through this book and totally spellbound at the connection between George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984) and camps of refugees from Soviet Ukraine.

2. Odessa Dreams: Another short read, this one focusing on the men who search for love (or something like that) in Ukraine. Reviewed by Dean O'Brien here.

3.  Hip Hop Ukraine: Music, Race, and African Migration How cool does that title sound?! Ever since stumbling across this song-
so-called "Ukrainian hip hop videos" have been redeemed in my eyes (compare, for example, this atrocity). The group above- Chornobryvtsy- is just one of the groups covered in this book.

4.  Picnic at the Iron Curtain: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution This book is in my Kindle queue, looking forward to it!

Have you read any good books featuring Ukraine lately? Or would you like to try reading one of the above? Drop me a line in the comments! : )


  1. #4 I could skip too, I think.

    I'm digging the African migration book, though. I'm so fascinated by their entrance/assimilation into Eastern European culture.

    1. Ooooh, let me know if you end up reading it : ) Would be interesting to hear about the rest of the book!