Reviews of I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

I Will Die in a Foreign Land

by Kalani Pickhart

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart X
I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 260 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in Ukraine in 2013, I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an especially moving story of quiet beauty and love in a time of terror; an ambitious, intimate, and haunting portrait of human perseverance and empathy.

In 1913, a Russian ballet incited a riot in Paris at the new Théâtre de Champs-Elysées. "Only a Russian could do that," says Aleksandr Ivanovich. "Only a Russian could make the whole world go mad."

A century later, in November 2013, thousands of Ukrainian citizens gathered at Independence Square in Kyiv to protest then-President Yanukovych's failure to sign a referendum with the European Union, opting instead to forge a closer alliance with President Vladimir Putin and Russia. The peaceful protests turned violent when military police shot live ammunition into the crowd, killing over a hundred civilians.

I Will Die in a Foreign Land follows four individuals over the course of a volatile Ukrainian winter, as their lives are forever changed by the Euromaidan protests. Katya is an Ukrainian-American doctor stationed at a makeshift medical clinic in St. Michael's Monastery; Misha is an engineer originally from Pripyat, who has lived in Kyiv since his wife's death from radiation sickness; Slava is a fiery young activist whose past hardships steel her determination in the face of persecution; and Aleksandr Ivanovich, a former KGB agent, who climbs atop a burned-out police bus at Independence Square and plays the piano.

As Katya, Misha, Slava, and Aleksandr's lives become intertwined, they each seek their own solace during an especially tumultuous and violent period. The story is also told by a chorus of voices that incorporates folklore and narrates a turbulent Slavic history.

While unfolding an especially moving story of quiet beauty and love in a time of terror, I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an ambitious, intimate, and haunting portrait of human perseverance and empathy.

The snow in Boston, Katya thinks, must be thick like cake. She flicks her cigarette. A black cloud of burning tires near the Maidan less than a mile away forces a cough. The air is frigid. The injured have not rested. The light outside is disappearing.

St. Michael's appears to be inside an apocalyptic snow globe: golden spirals, eye-blue walls, ember and ash ethereal. The bell tower stands like a soldier. Indeed, it is.

We're all under water here, Katya thinks. Shaken loose like silt. An undertow. A baptism. A drowning. Last spring, Boston had a bombing. Now, she was in Kyiv.

Kyiv had been burning for months. The tactical police force—the Berkut—had started attacking thousands of peaceful protestors at the Maidan in November. St. Michael's opened its doors, bells ringing and priests singing, and the people came from Maidan to the church. Hundreds had been injured; some were dead. Distrust of the government caused hospitals to turn up in the streets. In shoe stores, in...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. This is a novel of historical fiction that largely focuses on the 2013–2014 Ukrainian revolution, but it also dives deeply into the history of the people, country, and region. What are some things that you learned about Ukraine and its history that you did not previously know?
  2. The author chose to title the novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land: why do you think this is fitting? Which characters literally leave their homeland? What deeper meanings can you draw, considering the ancient and modern Slavic history that is sprinkled throughout the book?
  3. The novel is comprised of multiple main narratives, spanning different periods of time, that are braided together along with frequent asides featuring folklore, history, and news related to...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Told in a non-linear fashion and incorporating multimedia formats such as newspaper articles, flight manifestos and audio transcripts, it can be tricky to keep track of the timeline and the various connections between each thread. That said, these somewhat removed, fact-based sections create a tonal contrast that accentuates the passion and emotion of the individual characters' stories. In many ways, the book feels like an ode to the everyman of Ukraine. With a deft hand, it celebrates those who strive to heal when the world around them feels broken, and the bravery required to love against the odds...continued

Full Review (556 words).

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
I Will Die in a Foreign Land is 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 Washington Post
I tore through I Will Die in a Foreign Land. It's terrific. I've been following the alarming news about Putin's machinations along the Ukrainian border, but nothing has given me such a profound impression of what Ukrainians have endured as this intensely moving novel.

Chicago Review of Books
The sort of ambitious debut novel that makes you sit up and take notice, Kalani Pickhart's sprawling and rambunctious portrait of the 2013 Ukrainian protests that led to the killing of over a hundred civilians announces an exciting new voice in fiction. Unfolding with the assurance and daring of a much more seasoned writer, I Will Die in a Foreign Land will appeal to readers of history and tragedy alike.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Innovative, emotionally resonant, and deeply affecting, this is a more-than-promising debut from a very talented writer. An excellent debut from an author who's bursting with talent.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In Pickhart's ardent, sprawling debut, a set of memorable characters attempt to lay bare the truths of recent conflicts in the Ukraine...This bighearted novel generously portrays the unforgettable set of characters through their determination to face oppression. It's a stunner.

Booklist
In this sweeping debut novel, readers are transported inside the 2013–14 Ukrainian battle to maintain independence under pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych...an unforgettable reading experience and a critical lesson in ongoing global history.

Author Blurb Ayşe Papatya Bucak, author of The Trojan War Museum
I Will Die in a Foreign Land beautifully illustrates the palimpsest of history, both on the global scale, as old wars give way to new, and the personal, as old loves give way to new. This novel perfectly captures the tragedy and romance of those willing to die for their beliefs.

Author Blurb Caitlin Horrocks, author of Life Among the Terranauts, This Is Not Your City, and The Vexations
I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an antidote to safe or insular fiction. Kalani Pickhart casts her gaze both outward and inward, to decades of fractious history and the ways loss marks the human heart. How does a person, or a nation, endure and transform? The novel asks big questions and offers up answers written with an unerring sense of character and astonishingly beautiful language.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Ukraine's Babushkas: The Women Who Refused to Leave Chernobyl

Gated entrance of Chernobyl exclusion zoneSome of the main characters in Kalani Pickhart's I Will Die in a Foreign Land grew up in Chernobyl in the north of Ukraine, an area that had been home to tens of thousands of families for generations, until the explosion in reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26th, 1986 sparked the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever seen. Toxic fires raged for 10 days, generating levels of radiation thought to be 500 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

In the hours following the accident, the inhabitants of 81 settlements throughout the surrounding area (totaling more than 115,000 people) were given orders to evacuate. Initial reports suggested this would be a temporary measure lasting no more than three days...

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