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Reviews of Books.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Stories from Uzhgorod:

Stories from Uzhgorod: Stories by Sandy McCulloch

When retired biologist Sandy McCulloch of Corvallis Oregon was in his 70s he visited Uzhgorod in western Ukraine and wrote these stories. Corvallis and Uzhgorod are sister cities and share cultural exchanges so Sandy's visit is not completely strange or random.

In his Introduction McCulloch says: "Most of the stories in the book deal in some way with the people of Ukraine or Russia -- my friends. How then shall I write of my friends? It is called fiction. This is a book of fictional stories; but many of them in truth are a mixture of what we call reality and what we call imagination."

Although written in English, Stories from Uzhgorod was edited and published in Uzhgorod by Art Line Publishing House. The book has very limited availability in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. Being published in Uzhgorod with a Ukrainian editor lends a sense of authenticity to McCulloch's writing which reflects how a person from the USA might react to the everyday life of Ukraine.

I bought the only copy available on Amazon because I had been to the city myself just two years earlier than the author. It is an amazing city in the heart of Europe, and this literary visit reminded me of the joy I had there. I am sure it has changed much since the writing of this book, but Mr. McCulloch has done a wonderful job of capturing the spirit and the people of this small regional capital at the turn of the century.

The stories are short images of what a retired white man from the USA might glimpse of life in a small Ukrainian city. They deal with the difference in perspective of an everyday American and the Ukrainian community he visits. He writes in the first person, which he explains is his literary style, and the stories are not necessarily all about him.

"An Ordinary Day In Uzhgorod" tells of the events of one day that starts with him buying an engagement ring for his Ukrainian girlfriend. Later she feeds two hungry children they find on the street, and she intercedes with the employer of a friend to get some money paid to his widow. His message is that hunger and hard times cause people to help each other and stay happy.

"Please, Kill Him" - What would you do if you were an American in a foreign country and a child you had befriended asked you to kill someone?

"Hunger" - There are more than one kind of hunger. While many Ukrainians suffered from a lack of food, this story is about an American coming to Ukraine to marry and live with a local woman. Her hunger is not for food, but for his money.

"Americans Can't Understand Us" looks at the differences that an American in western Ukraine must come to terms with in living there.

"Footprints" is the author's musings, illustrated with four examples from his own experiences, on the idea that when some significant event happens in a certain place, the event leaves a residue that can be felt over time by later visitors.

"The Mirrormaker" is written in the style of a traditional folk tale and tells of a female mirrormaker and the young boy who is infatuated with her.

"The Best Talk In The World" is the author's memories of several great discussions he has had with Slavic people in his or their homes over drinks and/or dinner.

"Fire In The Desert" - what would cause a man who had put together a library of 4,000 books to burn them?

"Chekhov's Angels" is a brief story about 22 year old Leila whose mother plans to marry an American from Corvallis.

"Chekhov's Angels - Anna" is a story about the author meeting a Russian prostitute named Anna during a visit to Istanbul.

"The Cat That Walks By Herself" is a short story by Rudyard Kipling. McCulloch tells the story of Ukrainian Natalie who reminds him of the cat from Kipling's story.

"Plato's Magic Box"is the author's retelling of Plato's Cave for the television age.

"The Health House" tells of the author's visit to a health spa in the Carpathian Mountains near Uzhgorod. This spa, which is not usually frequented by tourists, was one I visited in 2000, so I found the story especially interesting.

"Moments Out Of Time" is exactly that, brief images of life in Central Europe that stood out in an American man's mind.

"A Perfect Suicide" tells the story of retired librarian facing her life after the library.

"Only Two Laws" tells a story based on two laws: Vengeance and Gratitude.

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