Kalani Pickhart discusses her new novel
I Will Die in a Foreign Land
published by Two Dollar Radio
In 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered at the new Théâtre de Champs-Elysées in Paris. The work so perplexed audiences that a riot broke out. “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 a 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; Slava is a fiery young activist whose past hardships steel her determination in the face of persecution; and Aleksandr Ivanovich, a former KGB agent, 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.
Kalani Pickhart holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. She is the recipient of research fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Intelligence for Eastern European and Eurasian Studies. I Will Die in a Foreign Land is her first novel.
Maria Kuznetsova is the author of the novel, OKSANA, BEHAVE! was published by Spiegel & Grau/Random House in 2019 and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick as well as a best spring read according to Oprah Magazine, InStyle, Pop Sugar, and The Wall Street Journal. Her second novel, SOMETHING UNBELIEVABLE, was published by Random House in April 2021 and was praised in the New York Times and called a best spring read according to PureWow, AV Club, Paperback Paris, Alma, and Bustle. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Auburn University. She is also the Fiction Editor of the Southern Humanities Review and The Bare Life Review, a journal of immigrant and refugee literature. She is working on a new novel titled MOTHER MATERIAL, the first chapter of which will appearing in The Southern Review.
Praise for I Will Die in a Foreign Land
“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.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred review (read the full Publishers Weekly review here)
“The lives of four people intersect during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution… Innovative, emotionally resonant, and deeply affecting, this is a more-than-promising debut from a very talented writer.”
—Kirkus, Starred review
“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.”
—Courtney Eathorne, Booklist
“Love triangles, grieving parents, sex trafficking, the KGB, Chernobyl, the Euromaidan protests—I Will Die in a Foreign Land has it all. This bold, intricate novel is as rich and complex as the Ukrainian history it describes with such precision and longing. In spite of their unspeakable personal and political tragedies, the people in this book will fill you with hope for a better world long after you turn the last page.”
—Maria Kuznetsova, author of Oksana, Behave! and Something Unbelievable
“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.”
—Caitlin Horrocks, author of Life Among the Terranauts, This Is Not Your City, and The Vexations
“Kalani Pickhart’s I Will Die in a Foreign Land hums with the intensity of a live wire. Told in intertwining strands of folklore, history, audio recordings, story, and song, the novel offers a complicated and often brutal portrait of Ukraine’s recent past. An innovative and electric debut: Pickhart writes with vividness, empathy, and unforgettable insight.”
—Allegra Hyde, author of Eleutheria and Of This New World
“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.”
—Ayşe Papatya Bucak, author of The Trojan War Museum
“Beseeching and beautiful, I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an ode to the inescapable difficulty of being both an individual and a citizen of the world. Rich with grief, folklore, and political will, Kalani Pickhart has written a novel of such intricacy that each moment expands and contracts to encompass more than time itself allows. It moved me deeply.”
—Adrienne Celt, author of Invitation to a Bonfire, The Daughters, and the forthcoming End of the World House
Sponsored by the City Lights Foundation