At the core of this contemporary novel is a weak and aging grandfather, born in the Ukraine and fond of telling and re-telling stories of his ethnic heritage. He sends his three grandsons on a trip from their native Canada to the old country to find his place of birth, a village so small it doesn’t appear on any map. As events unfold, however, it seems the grandfather’s dreams for his family far exceed having them discover old places and hearing more old stories.
Five years after the trip to Ukraine, and following the death of his beloved grandfather, Mike Bennek sets down an account of the trip he took with his brothers, two other family members, and some friends. There’s all the usual sightseeing, but also, through contact with both the local peasants and the aristocracy, the travelers discover the country’s paradoxes and deep national pride and identity.
Assisting Mike in the search for his grandfather’s roots is the lovely aristocrat, Natasha, who has a genius for providing anything that’s needed, from a family tree to a stolen kiss in her office at the local inn. Natasha’s research into the Bennek family tree produces not just surprises about Mike’s grandfather’s heritage, but also an incredible link between Natasha’s ancestors and his own. What began with a mild flirtation and a history question is destined to bring the two together in the future in a very surprising way.
Readers, however, will have to appreciate the poignancy of the story and its remarkable conclusion from within themselves, because this is relatively passionless recitation of an extraordinary tale. The writing is straightforward, with a lack of depth that would add to readers’ understanding of important issues. Similarly, the characters could use much more fleshing out. But make no mistake, there’s heart evident in the work, and a good story emerges for those able to look past the stylistic flaws.
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