By: Francesca Duranti
Format/Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley
An abandoned wife travels into the heart of the Eastern bloc in search of an elusive writer and her own identity in this wry and captivating satire
Valentina has spent the last decade as a most dutiful wife: cooking meals, cleaning house, and translating dry liturgical writings for her husband, Ricardo, to use in his own bestselling literary endeavors. When Ricardo leaves her for another woman, Valentina realizes there is little in her life that is truly hers. So she resolves to strike out on her own as a journalist and track down the elusive novelist Milos Jarco, hiding somewhere in pre-glasnost Eastern Europe. Perhaps in finding Jarco, she can find herself as well.
The gray world she enters is marked by tight lips, guarded secrets, and universal mistrust. Her search for Jarco hits roadblock after roadblock. But on her odyssey through the Soviet hinterland, Valentina encounters something unexpected. She discovers passion . . . and oddly enough, freedom.
Personal Effects was the other book I picked up from the publishers via NetGalley. The premise of the novel sounded interesting–travelling through Soviet Eastern Europe, trying to take charge of her life again–and despite of my questions of the plot, I did like Duranti’s Happy Ending (review) enough. This novel was released on 21 January 2014.
Sadly I didn’t quite enjoy this novel as much as I thought I would have. With the first person narrative, the reader is drawn into Valentina’s life and where she finds herself at the beginning of the novel: divorced with no sense of accomplishment that she can call her own and a mother whose formidable past and personality bears a rather long shadow over her. Valentina sets out on a journey to track down an elusive novelist as part of an article she’s working on and in the process comes to terms about her life and about herself. It technically has all of the elements that I normally enjoy in a novel: a character on the road to reclaiming something for herself, travelling to another country, Eastern Europe. And yet somehow it all fell flat for me.
I think a large part of it has to do with Valentina never resonating with me as a character. Yes, her life was not very happy and she was in need of a change but her narrative never quite connected with me, hence I did not find myself caring about her character journey or the actual goal that she had in finding Milos Jarco. Even her reflections felt rather cold and distant (which may also be because of the translation and the way the author writes in general) and the narrative never felt comfortable to me. I kept reading only because it was a slim volume and I wanted to know/see if there was any moment along Valentina’s journey where it might turn around my reading experience. Sadly there was no such moment: no passion, no rousing moment of intrigue on my part, not to mention a rather bleak ending.
I did however like this line, I thought it was something many people can relate to:
“Maybe” tomorrow something will change. Maybe tomorrow it will begin.
Now I feel I can no longer keep postponing, accumulating days of nothingness waiting for something to begin tomorrow. – (quote not final)
Overall, while the elements of this novel sounded interesting and her time in pre-glasnost Eastern Europe was intriguing, this novel was just not a fit for me, leaving me rather bored and disengaged from events in the story.