Review of Irkadura

This is my review of Irkadura, a novel by Ksenia Anske.

Other Reviews on the Internet

If you want a review with no spoilers, travel there along the information superhighway.

There are a few other reviews:

Another review by Brighten Quintin.

And another, by Rae Oestreich, who gives it a 4.33 out of 5.

Yet another review by Rachel Author Barnard. Is that her real middle name?

And Briana's review.

And review by Caitlin O'Connor on July 12 2015.

And before you go any further, there are other reviews yet at Goodreads, Amazon . (Wattpad makes it hard to read comments...)

And, on YouTube, an excellent review by Jaret Martins (@FadingDream97) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpecTXytSUg. There are no spoilers, but he does say this is the best book he's ever read and that you shouldn't read it if you have triggers, and because it's dark.

The Actual Review

If you don't want to read my spoiler-laden review, just click here to buy from Ksenia's Irkadura web page where she also has the links to the free versions, paper versions, ebook versions, and links to more reviews and independent books sellers. You can also buy directly from her right on the site.

SPOILER ALERT! THIS CONTAINS ENOUGH SPOILERS TO MAKE YOU BUY THE BOOK. (Despite your worse intentions).

(Seriously, there are spoilers).

It starts out very innocently, with:

Irkadura
a novel by Ksenia Anske
61,395 words.

Ok, first of all, let's back up a bit. This is a review of the fourth draft, not the final novel, since @colleenmalbert hasn't edited it yet. There is a slight possibility that the novel may undergo significant changes still.

I also read draft three which, while slightly different, is harder to read. Mind you, I really, really liked it, and was somewhat disappointed in the first chapter changes in draft four.

The story is simple, mundane even. A sixteen year old girl runs away from sexual abuse by a family member, discovers she's pregnant, and has to scrounge to survive. She meets a nice boy who also has a dark secret, falls in love with him, moves in with him over his parent's strong concerns, and, well, in fact, the story is no so simple any more after that. He's gay, but his parents don't know. He feels sorry for the girl, and also under pressure from his parents to conform to their expectations, so says he's the father of the child.

All is going peachy except that ultranationalists during the break up of the Soviet Union want to get rid of the boy, not only because he's gay, but also because he's jewish.

She also isn't out of the woods. Unable to speak from the age of two, she is driven by a sense of deep shame and a desire for revenge. She alternates between internal hate and external hate. She senses, then develops an internal dialog with her unborn child, who becomes her driving force, her enabler.

Attuned to her acute sense of foreboding, she knows bad things before they happen, and tries to warn people, unsuccessfully.

She too is pursued, hunted. The stress on her psyche proves too much for her. Turning at last from reason, she embarks on a series of wild acts that culminate in three murders: her own, her son's, and her son's father, the abuser, who also kills the boy she loves. During the final chapters, all else falls away. She reveals herself, finding her voice again, as the product of her upbringing, and lashes out against the system.

Now, I am writing this review primarily for the author, Ksenia. I am also writing for myself, to help me process this hard novel, to expunge its effect on me a little. So please forgive me if I assume intimate familiarity with the book. If you are still trying to decide whether you should read it, I will give you this advice: don't.

This is a hard book to read. It has brutal, senseless violence, killings, stupidity, sexual, verbal, and physical abuse, madness, horror, and racism. Wait, there's more! The sex scenes aren't sexy, the love scenes are depressing and demeaning, the fights are clumsy and bloody, there's an obsession with touching and kissing that gets satisfied only moments before terrible tragedy, and there are mean people who ignore, yell, and fight each other.

I asked a Russian friend of mine to read it, and she refused to go on after the first chapter, explaining that she left Russia behind and didn't want to reopen old wounds. She did say that she really enjoyed the writing style though.

I really liked Ksenia's style also, and perhaps this is what first drew me to the tale. It flows well, mixes fast action, reflection, and short but dense and effective scene descriptions. The dialog is realistic, doesn't get in the way, doesn't get boring, moves the story along nicely.

The description of Irina's life in Moscow made me feel like I was there. Architecture, grey skies, snow, cold, bushes, trees, cars, clothes, and the people, in their varied shapes and colors and demeanors put pictures in my mind in full technicolor and I thought I was there, in the cold, in the snow, looking at the sky, eating berries, in the apartments, in the staircases, in the bathrooms, in the hospitals.

Evidently, this work is not autobiographical, but it absolutely feels like it. Ksenia calls herself a fantasy writer. This isn't fantasy, it's nightmare. A dreadful, punch-you-in-the-gut tale of madness and death.

If you are sensitive, don't read it. If you need trigger alerts, this is your trigger alert. If you want something fun to read to escape the monotony of your life, this book isn't for you.

Yet I loved it. Ksenia delivers a masterful performance. Like the shy violinist who plays Mozart solos but blushes in fan selfies, like the cook who makes exquisite chocolate eclairs but can't say a word to the woman of his dreams, like the teen who writes Android apps in C++ but can't bear to see himself going to the prom, so is Ksenia Anske: a misfit, unaware of the power of her pen, oblivious to the transformational effect her art has on the reader, so absorbed in her own introspective self-doubt she fails to notice the tears in her readers' eyes, the clouds that mar their fake smiles, their sense of disorientation when at last, after long yet short hours, they emerge, transfixed, from the pages of her writing.

There are no spaceships, no glittering force fields, no shimmering unicorn ponies, no heroes, no right and wrong, no morality, no justice: there is only Irina, an abused child, kicked by all, who, in pain, chooses madness and death over slavery.

There are no saviors, no figureheads to cling to. Even Lenin is deliciously eviscerated. There is but a shattered society buffeting Irina along her headlong fall into madness, and despite feeble attempts, they fail miserably at helping her, leaving her to her misdiagnosed and dreadful demise.

In Irkadura, Ksenia delivers a heartfelt performance, not to reach the pinnacle of the young adult literary genre, but to deliver a scathing indictment of human society.

But what do I know? Go read it for yourself.

August 16, 2014.

© 2014 Christopher Mahan