Tag Archives: Cultural Russia

Spotlight, Guest Post & Giveaway: The Gate of Dawn by Marina J. Neary

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About The Gate of Dawn

Welcome to 1880s Vilnius, a volatile Northeastern metropolis where Balts, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Jews compete for a place in the sun. After sustaining fatal burns in a fire instigated by his rivals, textile magnate Hermann Lichtner spends his final days in a shabby infirmary. In a hasty and bizarre deathbed transaction he gives his fifteen-year-old daughter Renate in marriage to Thaddeus, a widowed Polish farmer who rejects social hierarchy and toils side by side with his peasants.

Renate’s arrival quickly disrupts the bucolic flow of life and antagonizes every member of the household. During an excursion to the city, Renate rekindles an affair with a young Jewish painter who sells his watercolors outside the Gate of Dawn chapel. While her despairing husband might look the other way, his servants will not stand by and watch while their adored master is humiliated.

Taking us from the cobblestone streets of old Vilnius, swarming with imperial gendarmes, to the misty bogs of rural Lithuania where pagan deities still rule, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of rivalry, conspiracy, and revenge.

AMAZON

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Guest Post

Reversing cliches
Historical fiction abounds with tales of skittish, voiceless child brides being married off to callous and lecherous older men. It’s a perfect scenario for a potboiler, because it’s guaranteed to generate a certain emotional reaction out of the female readership. Modern women will sympathize with the poor oppressed lamb and wait for her to be rescued by a dashing highlander/outlaw/starving artist (fill in the blank). But are the stock victim/exploiter roles always clearly delineated? What if the child bride becomes the aggressor, and the older husband becomes a victim? In my latest historical novel The Gate of Dawn (Penmore Press, 2016) I develop that scenario. We have Renate, an assertive, pragmatic fifteen-year old girl of German extraction giving her spineless thirty-year old Polish husband Thaddeus a run for his money. Did I say money? Oh, that’s right. There’s another twist. In this peculiar relationship, it’s the child bride who brings in the money in addition to her youth and promise of procreation. What in the world does her husband have to contribute? A chunk of infertile land with a sinister name Raven’s Bog where nothing grows, a chronically bleeding heart from too many bereavements, and a fantastic amount of religious piety. How in the world did those two end up together?

It started with a bizarre deathbed transaction …
Renate’s father, Hermann Lichtner, a textile magnate, sustains deadly burns in a factory fire instigated by his business rivals. Having only a few hours left to live, he summons his attorney to make a will. Hermann’s biggest dilemma is what to do with his adolescent daughter, who is now left a very wealthy orphan. As a progressive man, Hermann raised Renate to be the successor to his empire rather than a debutante, a future entrepreneur. The devastating fire that obliterated his textile business makes him change his plans. A fifteen-year old girl with a lot of money on her hands can attract all sorts of unsavory characters and get into a great deal of trouble. So the next logical step is to marry her off to a man who is not too predatory or unscrupulous. The only candidate Hermann Lichtner can think of is Thaddeus Dombrowski, a thirty-year old widowed Polish farmer.

Polish men have a reputation for being good husbands. They have the right balance of work ethic, good looks, Catholic guilt and sexual appeal that make them suitable for a lifelong relationship. Despite their physical strength, they are demure, quiet and submissive to their wives, always eager to lift heavy things around the house, always with a sheepish smile and a bottle of beer in hand. For a woman with a strong matriarchal/feminist streak a man like that would be dream come true. Our fifteen-year old heroine is not entirely blind to the advantages her marriage has to offer. The only problem is that Master Dombrowski is not the one who makes the decisions. It’s his Lithuanian servants. Soft-spoken and dangerously democratic, Thaddeus treats his servants as family members and gives them plenty of latitude. They eat at the same table and drink from the same beer barrel. From the moment the young bride arrives at Raven’s Bog, she antagonizes every member of the household. Before long, Thaddeus finds himself torn between his demanding, condescending teenage wife and his increasingly discontented servants, who hate the new lady of the house.

Portraying the heroine
I am fortunate to live close to New York City. I am also fortunate to have publishers who give me some creative latitude. They are open to the idea of me picking models for the cover as opposed to using stock images. I’ve seen enough historical novel covers featuring the same headless model. One of my friends from Historical Novel Society wrote an entire article giving great examples of the same cliche stock photo featuring a blonde woman with anachronistic hair and makeup used for various novel covers. Why rely on stock photos, when there are so many beautiful, unique, ethnic faces around?

To portray the above-mentioned child bride I chose a beautiful New York based modern dancer Logan Devlin, who is actually working in her chosen profession – something so many performing artists only dream of. As her name indicates, she’s of Irish descent. Old enough to vote but not old enough to drink, she can pass for a fifteen-year old. Her bone structure, coloring and expression were spot on. There are so many young female models on the website who fry their skin in tanning salons and put their natural hair through all kinds of torturous procedures to achieve that “ethnically ambiguous look”. Too many actresses end up with orange skin and streaky highlights. They reinvent themselves to the point where you cannot guess their age or their innate ethnicity. So it was very refreshing to find a young actress who takes pride in her natural Germanic complexion. I started planning a draft of The Gate of Dawn 15 years ago, so I had a pretty good idea of what the main characters looked like. So when I saw Logan’s head shot, I immediately thought: this is her!

About Marina J. Neary12274343_10154343296021978_2189503503859888400_n

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. Her latest Penmore release, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of conspiracy and revenge set in czarist Lithuania.

Giveaway

Enter to win a Amazon gift copy of The Gate of Dawn. Open to US residents only. Ends 6/21/16.
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Publisher: Penmore Press LLC (May 19, 2016)

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Filed under 2016, Fiction, June, Review

Review, Guest Post & Giveaway: Saved by the Bang by Marina Julia Neary

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About Saved by the Bang

Welcome to 1980s Belarus, where Polish denim is the currency, “kike” is a pedestrian endearment, and second trimester abortion can be procured for a box of chocolates. Antonia Olenski, PhD, a catty half-Jewish pianist and leading cock tease of the Gomel Music Academy, wavers between her flamboyant composer husband Joseph and a chivalrous tenor Nicholas. The Chernobyl disaster breaks up the love triangle, forcing Antonia into evacuation in the cumbersome company of her ugly eight-year old daughter Maryana. After a summer of cruising through Crimean sanatoriums and flirting with Afghan veterans, Antonia starts pining for the intrigues and scandals of the Academy. When the queen of cats finally returns home, she finds that another woman is wearing her crown. In the afterglow of nuclear fallout, artistic, ethnic and sexual rivalries emerge. How far will Antonia go to reclaim her throne?

My Review

Marina sure knows how to spin a yarn and this book is no exception. Perfect amount of comedy and tragedy as you are privy to the Olenski’s, a Soviet upper class family’s ride among the chaos and turbulence of 1990’s Russia.

Belarus is the focus as it celebrates its autonomy. Plenty of political sarcasm mixed with dark humor guide the reader gently through the brutality and harshness of the times.

Reading of Antonia and Maryana’s frantic flight from radiation fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, their lives dramatically altered from even more challenges as they eventually find their home in Connecticut is a journey not to be missed.

Antonia and Maryana are true survivors, making the best of challenges and obstacles, victorious in the end.

Wonderfully written, fans seeking satire on an autobiographical level will appreciate Marina’s story.

Guest Post

“Feminism is a game fat American housewives play to feel important.” In a nutshell, that was a very concise description my 1st grade teacher gave me in 1986 when I asked her to clarify the meaning of that word. Before you throw any rotten tomatoes at me, let’s take a step back to process that loaded statement in a historical context. There were so many myths and theories floating around on both sides of the Atlantic. Let’s take a moment to deconstruct them.

Weight issues and body image
In a society where food was scarce and public transportation unreliable, an average woman burned hundreds of calories on her way to work. Fat-shaming was rampant. Overweight individuals were perceived as gluttonous, lethargic and lacking self-control in a culture that praised mobility, industriousness and aggression. According to the late Soviet era ethos, some of the worst things you could be were fat and voluntarily unemployed aka “housewife”.

Gender roles (my favorite topic)
“Housewife” was a dirty word, synonymous with “slave” and “cripple”. Unlike their American sisters, Soviet women did not need to fight for their rights. Equality had been pretty much granted to them as result of the 1917 October Revolution. The new government took initiative to bust the old gender roles and minimize the gender gap in the workforce. From day one, girls were taught they could do everything that boys could. When asked which career path she wanted to pursue, a good Soviet girl was expected to reply, “engineering” or “space exploration” or “combat medicine”. If a girl replied “I just want to be a mom”, eyebrows would be raised. Her parents would probably get a call from the school principal.

In Saved by the Bang, my autobiographical satire, you have a fairly traditional matriarchal family, with three generations of achievement-oriented women: a civil engineer (Lily), a music professor (Antonia) and a lab technician and student body leader (Maryana). A woman’s worth is measured in her diplomas, medals, ribbons and certificates of appreciation.

Housing arrangements
Lack of housing in urban areas was – and continues to be – a major issue. You still have multi-generational families stuffed into one-bedroom apartment. It’s not unusual to have two children and a grandmother in one bedroom, and the parents in the living-room on the couch. In some families, certain members sleep on the balcony, in the hallway or in the kitchen. So home was not a place where you would want to spend too much of your time without tripping over other members. It’s a place to change your clothes, grab something quick to eat and spend the night. So if you don’t have the physical infrastructure for a home, it makes sense that you don’t have this religion around domesticity either.

Attitude towards Americans
By 1986 when the novel takes place nobody really feared that Americans were going to drop a nuclear bomb on Moscow. The Cold War was pretty much over. Still, there was a fair amount of antagonism towards American economic and social values, or at least what Soviets perceived them to be. I find it fascinating how Americans talk about the proverbial Anglo-Saxon work ethic, yet for a long time they were portrayed as fat and idle in Soviet media. Being married to one of those “capitalist fat cats” was probably the most demeaning position a woman could fathom.

Sexual agency
Soviet culture actually encouraged prudishness for men and women. The housing crisis and lack of privacy played into that doctrine nicely. Boys were taught that girls are “comrades first and foremost”, working towards the shared goal of making the Soviet Union an industrial and military leader. A model citizen was not to be overly interested in pleasures of the flesh. Until the 1990s premarital sex was frowned upon as an “extreme sport”. Adultery conviction could mean job loss. Having a colorful sex life was something “fat American housewives” did.

About Marina Julia Neary12274343_10154343296021978_2189503503859888400_n

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

Don’t miss her acclaimed debut novel Wynfield’s Kingdom (2009, Fireship Press).

Connect with Marina: Website | Facebook

Links to Irish books: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian | Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916  Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels

Giveaway

Enter to win a Amazon gift copy of Saved by the Bang. Open to US residents only. Ends 1/12/16.
ENTRY-FORM

Saved by the Bang by Marina Julia Neary, published by Penmore Press LLC (December 8, 2015)

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Filed under 2016, Guest Post, January, Nonfiction, Review

First Book Of The Year 2016

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First Book Of The Year 2016

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About Saved by the Bang

Welcome to 1980s Belarus, where Polish denim is the currency, “kike” is a pedestrian endearment, and second trimester abortion can be procured for a box of chocolates. Antonia Olenski, PhD, a catty half-Jewish pianist and leading cock tease of the Gomel Music Academy, wavers between her flamboyant composer husband Joseph and a chivalrous tenor Nicholas. The Chernobyl disaster breaks up the love triangle, forcing Antonia into evacuation in the cumbersome company of her ugly eight-year old daughter Maryana. After a summer of cruising through Crimean sanatoriums and flirting with Afghan veterans, Antonia starts pining for the intrigues and scandals of the Academy. When the queen of cats finally returns home, she finds that another woman is wearing her crown. In the afterglow of nuclear fallout, artistic, ethnic and sexual rivalries emerge. How far will Antonia go to reclaim her throne?

Why Saved by the Bang

I appreciate Marina’s smart solid writing and content.  I’m curious to read this particular book sinply because it’s not my usual go to – satire, dystopian, historical, plus it’s loosely biographical, needless to say my interest is piqued. No better way to start 2016 by expanding my reading background with an extremely talented authoress.

About Marina Julia Neary12274343_10154343296021978_2189503503859888400_n

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

Don’t miss her acclaimed debut novel Wynfield’s Kingdom (2009, Fireship Press).

Connect with Marina: Website | Facebook

Links to Irish books: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian | Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916  Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels

 

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Filed under 2016, January, Nonfiction

Review & Giveaway: Hotel Moscow by Talia Carner

Hotel Moscow

•Paperback: 464 pages
•Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 2, 2015)

  • A mesmerizing, thought-provoking novel that tells the riveting story of an American woman—the daughter of Holocaust survivors—who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism, and finds herself embroiled in a perilous mafia conspiracy that could irrevocably destroy her life.

As the story unfolds I found myself questioning its plausibility, partly due to its presentation which comes across in a rather brusque manner. I wavered back and forth as to the occurrences and situations given. What left me in suspended doubt, piquing my curiosity even more – Carner was in Moscow months after Communism tumbles along with Yeltsin stomping a rebellion. Carner was part of a group of American female business professionals as portrayed in both the lead protagonist and narrative, loosely the plot is based on Carner’s experiences. I wish she mentioned this factoid in the beginning as opposed to the end, I certainly would have approached the book differently.

Compelling narrative of the difficulties and harshness post Communism complete with portraying the undeniable misogynist attitude of Russian men, the rampant corruption, the struggles of citizens.

The solidarity of women determined to educate, seek social justice, change and empower themselves despite the misogynist attitudes and discrimination surrounding them is inspiring and affecting.

The mafioso aggression by means of sexual assault, horrific torture, vandalizing business property as well as the businesses themselves appears far fetched, strictly inserted to shock the reader. However, after reading of Carner living in Moscow during the fall of Communism lends credibility to the horrendous acts described. A case of I wasn’t there, very well could have occurred, can’t rule anything out during this period of turbulent transition.

Brooke Fielding failed to woo me, mixed feelings about her. Wasn’t a fan of the romance portion and Brooke’s ‘secrets’ ALL felt misplaced especially due to the bleakness and severity of the narrative, would have been received better if these two nonsensical and unnecessary instances were omitted. The entire narrative had a rough, awkward feel, detered from the deliery as well as impact. Difficult to delve into completely.

True to its billing it is an eye-opening portrait of post-communist Russia and a profound exploration of faith, family, and heritage.

About Talia CarnerTalia Carner

Talia Carner is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine and a lecturer at international women’s economic forums. This is her fourth novel.

Visit Talia at her website, taliacarner.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Giveaway

TWO lucky winners have a chance to win a copy of Hotel Moscow, please complete the giveaway form below. Open to US residents only. Ends 6/12/15
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Excited to be included in the tour for Talia Carner’s Hotel Moscow. Be sure to click on the TLC banner to check out the entire tour schedule. Thank you TLC!

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Filed under 2015, Fiction, June

Review: Snow in May: Stories by Kseniya Melnik

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Kseniya Melnik’s outstanding debut, Snow in May, visits Magadan, an isolated town in northern Russia serving as the gate to the most brutal Stalinist labor camps.

Nine linked stories with a varying cast touching upon topics as marriage, family, hope. History presented and evolved through many challenges the eclectic cast faced.

Melnik takes daily struggles peppered with humor, sensitivity and empathy as each vignette unfolds. She masterfully takes the reader by the hand waking you through the emotional connection you develop with the characters and their plights. Once strangers, towards the end close friends. Affecting collection, impressive talent Melnik displays.


•Hardcover, 272 pages
•Published May 13th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
•ISBN13: 9781627790079

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Filed under 2015, Fiction, March