Shortly after his thirtieth birthday in 2018, John Turner accepts a job offer from an old college friend to move to Ukraine to teach customer service agents there how to sound American, but with no knowledge of the language and struggling to understand the culture and customs, he finds himself in a romantic entanglement with disastrous consequences.
A journey of self-discovery, some mild criticism of global capitalism and a cross-cultural collision, all in a single book ... Lichtman’s light touch is a welcome reminder of the humor and wit that, as he points out in a preface written after Russia’s invasion last year, pervades Ukrainian culture even now ... But his brief reflections on Ukrainian history and politics are as dutiful as asides in a Lonely Planet guide. A pivotal scene depends on an implausible confusion of two Ukrainian phrases... and a lurid turn in the second half of the novel has a clear satirical logic but heightens the sense that the Ukrainian characters are only plot devices, though they’re drawn with sympathy. For me, the most engaging chapters were the two written from their perspectives.
While abrupt tonal shifts and some very dark comedy may put some readers off, the novel makes sharp points about mutual misunderstanding between U.S. residents and people living in countries of the former Soviet bloc.
John’s effort... provides Lichtman an opportunity to reflect on cultural differences, on the twilight of the so-called American Age... and on the damage peculiar to the representative of empire who is sheepish, guilty, exquisitely sensitive, and determined to make everyone agree that he has no imperial intent. Perhaps most impressive is Lichtman's high-wire act of tone.