American author Kalani Pickhart’s powerful debut novel returns to the explosive energy that immediately preceded that outbreak of war, showing us characters who each, in their own way, contribute to the Revolution of Dignity. Pickhart homes in on her characters’ individual struggles and widens the shot in turn, to encompass the whole conflagration and the sequence of ruins it left behind it. It is an impressive feat of empathy, for although Pickhart did travel to Kyiv and consult with many Ukrainian authors and scholars, she is not Ukrainian (or Ukrainian-American) herself ... In this novel about the fight for a fatherland, the relationships between fathers and mothers and their children are spotlit in sometimes shocking ways ... also overwhelmingly full of music: the Captain’s piano playing that sustains protesters; the bells of the monastery; and through the novel’s choral structure, a swirl of private melodies that come together in surprising harmony from start to finish ... Their ghosts are ever-present in this rich, multilayered story. It will resonate with a wide range of readers, and provide illuminating insight for those hoping to learn more about the current conflict.
What author Kalani Pickhart has achieved is a novel that is at once tragic and beautiful. Taking a variety of mediums, from non-linear storytelling, newspaper accounts, and ancient Ukranian folk songs, at times it seems the novel’s main protagonist is the Ukraine and the characters are simply there to flesh out this complex region of the world ... This method could easily be clumsy, but Pickhart skillfully renders it beautiful, like a woven tapestry in which the product is beautiful, but the art is most appreciated upon close inspection. And into this tapestry she weaves the lives of those who stay and fight against oppression and hate at great personal peril ... simply breathtaking in its scope. Pickhart’s storytelling is flawless with nothing gratuitous or superfluous. She has taken a large, complex subject and rendered it both tragic and tender by reminding the reader that in the end, the individual life touched by conflict is what really matters.
The narrative is interspersed with established facts about the protests and Ukrainian history, as well as with poems about past atrocities and lists of victims who died in the war at its center. This contextual work puts the characters’ troubles in perspective—not by diminishing their pain, but by allowing them to be part of a tragic but proud national heritage. The novel shows that Ukraine and its people have suffered at the hands of a bevy of invaders; its leads are the latest in a long line of people who loved, lost, evolved, and endured there ... a love letter to Ukraine, its people, and its ability to rise up from piled catastrophes.