National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of Such Good Work Johannes Lichtman returns with a novel that is strikingly relevant to our times–about an American who takes a job in Ukraine in 2018, only to find that his struggle to understand the customs and culture is eclipsed by a romantic entanglement with deadly consequences.
Shortly after his thirtieth birthday, John Turner receives a call from an old college friend who makes him an odd job offer: move to Ukraine to teach customer service agents at a startup how to sound American. John’s never been to Ukraine, doesn’t speak Ukrainian, and is supposed to be a journalist, not a consultant. But having just gone through a break-up and the death of his father, it might just be the new start he’s been looking for.
In Ukraine, John understands very little–the language and social customs are impenetrable to him. At work, his employees are fluent in English but have difficulty grasping the concept of “small talk.” And although he told himself not to get romantically involved while abroad, he can’t help but be increasingly drawn to one of his colleagues.
Most distressing, however, is the fact that John can hear, through their shared wall, his neighbor beating his wife. Desperate to help, John decides to offer the neighbor 100,000 hryvnias to stop. It’s a plan born out the best intentions, but one that has disastrous repercussions that no amount of money or altruism can resolve.
Like Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station
and Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You
, Calling Ukraine
reimagines the American-abroad novel. Moving effortlessly between the comic and the tragic, Johannes Lichtman deploys his signature wry humor and startling moral acuity to illuminate the inevitable complexities of doing right by others.