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I Will Die in a Foreign Land (Paperback)

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Author: Kalani Pickhart

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I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart
Author photo by Sydney Cisco.


* 2022 Young Lions Fiction Award, Finalist.
* VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, Longlist.
* An ABA "Indie Next List" pick for November 2021.
* "A Best Book of 2021"
New York Public LibraryCosmopolitan, Independent Book Review
* "October 2021 Must-Reads" 
DebutifulThe Chicago Review of BooksThe Millions

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.


Read an excerpt from CBS News (February 6, 2022):
Book excerpt: I Will Die In a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart


Additional Reading: Electric Literature (March 1, 2022):
"A Literary Guide to Understanding Ukraine, Past and Present" by Kalani Pickhart


REVIEWS:

Scroll to bottom for Goodreads reviews.

"What makes the breakout success of I Will Die in a Foreign Land even more compelling is its backstory: it was an unagented and unsolicited manuscript written by a writer who is not of Ukrainian ancestry that fell into the right hands at [Two Dollar Radio] by happenstance."
—Claire Kirch, Publishers Weekly
"Debut Novel About Ukraine Receives Attention, Acclaim" (May 04, 2022)

I Will Die in a Foreign Land is a finalist for the 2022 Young Lions Fiction Award. Read the announcement from the The New York Public Library:
"We are pleased to announce the finalists for the twenty-second annual Young Lions Fiction Award, honoring the works of five talented young authors." (April 14, 2022)
the 2022 Young Lions Fiction Award Finalists, The New York Public Library
^PHOTO: The New York Public Library

"I Will Die in a Foreign Land chronicles what Ukrainian protests looked like in 2013 and 2014, as demonstrators pushed for closer ties with NATO and the European Union."
—Rina Torchinsky, NPR
"Read these 6 books about Ukraine"

"Do you want to know more about the crisis in Ukraine? Do you want to read a lesbian activist love story? Do you want to know what happens to a KGB spy turned protest street pianist? Then this is the book you're looking for!"
—Fisher Nash, Carmichael's Bookstore (Louisville, Kentucky)

"Kalani Pickhart's timely debut novel, I Will Die In a Foreign Land, is about the 2014 Ukrainian revolution which provided a pretense for Russia to annex Crimea. The story follows the experiences of several characters whose lives intersect as the country's political situation deteriorates. There's a Ukrainian-American doctor, an old KGB spy, a former mine worker, and others, and these episodes are interspersed with folk songs, news reports and historical notes. The effect—kaleidoscopic but never confusing—provides an intimate sense of a country convulsing, mourning, and somehow surviving."
CBS News, "The Book Report: Recommendations from Washington Post critic Ron Charles"
(Watch the full video on CBS News, February 6, 2022).

"I Will Die in a Foreign Land tells the harrowing story of the Ukrainian conflict in 2014. Raw and emotional, Pickhart expertly displays the emotional passion and patriotic values at the root of the conflict, centered around the intersection of four main characters... Pickhart does what the media couldn’t: she puts names and faces to the stories of violent conflict. She reminds the reader that every journalist who disappeared is your friend who loudly states their opinion, that every mother is a woman with a backstory of love and life and pain before she moved into her new role... It’s apparent from the beginning that there is an underlying thread, a ribbon of truth connecting them all, and Pickhart makes sure the reader stays on long enough to find out what it is."
—Alexandra Barbush, Independent Book Review
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"Ukraine’s struggle against Russia engulfs the world today, and Pickhart’s novel has proven hauntingly germane in its portrayal of the ever-widening gyre and the innocents destroyed at its center."
—Amy Gustine, Cleveland Review of Books
"Brevity Creates Breadth: A Review-Interview with Kalani Pickhart on I Will Die in a Foreign Land"

"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."
—Ron Charles, Washington Post
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

“Sometimes, fiction does a better job of getting to the heart of a subject than nonfiction. This unusual novel takes place during the 2014 Maidan protests that ended in bloodshed and precipitated the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. It follows several characters as they participate in the protests and learn to live with unimaginable loss in the midst of violent upheaval and repression.”
—Eileen Gonzalez, BookRiot
“BOOKS FOR UNDERSTANDING RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE”

"Rooted in historical events, the novel follows four unforgettable characters finding their way amidst the violence and turmoil, striving to live and not just survive. So gorgeous and oh so very timely."
Literary Hub: Joelle Herr, The Bookshop (East Nashville, TN)
"Shelf Talkers: Booksellers from The Bookshop Share Their Favorites" 

"Everyone should read this book right now. Wow, Kalani Pickhart taught me so much about the complicated and messy recent history of Russia, Ukraine and their neighbors. Told in news briefs, intimate character narratives, old recordings sent to a long lost daughter, “songs” and nonfiction snippets, this is the most unique and touching novel I have ever read. For anyone who wants to know more about the continuing struggles and wars in Ukraine but with the heartbeat if a novel this is the book for you. I Will Die in a Foreign Land, tore my heart out, stitched it back together again and fed my compassion and understanding for people caught up in continuous uprisings and war."
—Danica Ramgoolam, Townie Books (Crested Butte, Colorado)

"Eight years before the recent Russian invasion, a popular uprising in Kyiv overthrew the old Moscow-backed government in favor of moving toward the European Union—an act for which Russia has been punishing Ukraine ever since. It is those events that inspired Kalani Pickhart’s recent novel, I Will Die in a Foreign Land. Hailed as one of the best books of 2021, it has found renewed relevance in the aftermath of the invasion. In this podcast, she joins New Lines’ Lydia Wilson to discuss what first drew her to the story, the relationship between fiction and journalism, and how the long history of Russian aggression against Ukraine led to the current crisis."
New Lines Podcast, March 11, 2022
"Writing a Revolution: Ukraine’s Maidan Uprising — with Kalani Pickhart"

"Pickhart’s characters are rich and real, flawed and scared, brave and noble. They betray and they are betrayed, sexually and politically and in every other way. They are shaped by individual choices and the terrible choices forced on them by history. They’re humans caught in a current.... By telling stories of those who live in history but refuse to fully succumb to it, Pickhart recuperates the humanity of the people of Ukraine and celebrates their lives as human beings, not as footnotes to someone else’s history."
—Brian O’Neill, Necessary Fiction
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

“Camera-eye perspective of the Ukraine Euromaidan protests—if John Dos Passos and John Reed joined Pussy Riot—rich, variegated characters, tense plot. A must read for anyone inclined toward world literature.”
—ABA Indie Next List: Conor Hultman, Square Books (Oxford, MS)
I Will Die in a Foreign Land is an ABA Indie Next List pick for November 2021

"A debut that is as thoughtful as it is explosive."
—Wendy J. Fox, BuzzFeed 
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"Via a chorus of voices infused with folklore, this novel follows four individuals during a volatile Ukrainian winter, as their lives become intertwined and are forever changed by the protests triggered by their president's alignment with Russia instead of the EU in 2013."
—New York Public Library
"Best Books for Adults 2021"

"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... I Will Die in a Foreign Land is at once a detailed snapshot of a very specific time and place, and an enduring, universal rallying call for hope in the face of tyranny."
—Callum McLaughlin, BookBrowse
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"2021 was a badass year for indie press books. This isn’t anything new. Indie presses are always pushing boundaries, bending genres, breaking new ground, and changing the scope of the literary landscape... here is this year’s roundup of Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021."
—Joe Walters, Independent Book Review
View I Will Die in a Foreign Land on the "35 Impressive Indie Press Books of 2021"

"These are well-rounded characters whose story arcs underscore cause and effect, the power of the arts, repercussions of bottled-up grief, the brother/sisterhood of humanity, and the importance of love and perseverance in a world of terror run amok."
—Lanie Tankard, On the Seawall
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"This novel spans a whole century, starting in 1913 with a ballet that starts a riot and picking up in 2013—which, TBH, feels like it was a hundred years from now. It's told from multiple perspectives and points in history, giving you a fully immersive experience that's perfect for a winter read."
—Adrianna Freedman & Leah Marilla Thomas, Cosmopolitan
"Best Historical Fiction Novels of 2021"

"Since 1991, Ukraine has experienced three revolutions, and Pickhart elegantly captures how these events build up inside a person, giving many Ukrainians an acute awareness of the self as both agent and consequence of history. For a man like Aleksandr Ivanovich, who wears insignia of the fallen Soviet empire to the 21st-century revolution, each uprising bleeds into the next. The book’s structure enhances this duality through short, fragmented chapters, folk songs, news clips, and a chorus of Kobzari bards; history is rendered diffuse and polyphonic, a tapestry of actors, concerns, and subplots. In our conversation, Pickhart discussed the elaborate form of her novel and the shifting relationships between revolution’s heroes and aggressors, its insiders and outsiders."
Sonya Bilocerkowycz, author of On Our Way Home from the Revolution, speaks with author Kalani Pickhart about her debut novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land, for The Los Angeles Review of Books

"The book is gripping, the stories of the characters wrap around each other like vines, and around the reader—choking and pulling them through. Pickhart uses the device of the Kobzari folk singers whose lyrics function like a Greek chorus, weaving together the pain of the individual characters and placing it in a broader cultural context."
Katya Apekina, author of The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, speaks with author Kalani Pickhart about her debut novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land, for Electric Literature

First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing podcast | 11/15/2021
Host Mitzi Rapkin and Kalani Pickhart in conversation about writing the complexities of the 2013 Ukrainian Protests in Pickhart debut novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land.

Burned By Books podcast: An interview with Kalani Pickhart | 12/31/2021
From host Chris Holmes — "Russia is again amassing troops on the Ukrainian border. There are threats of more sanctions from the US and the EU, but those come with a tacit understanding that there is likely little that the world can do to stop Putin should he decide to invade. It is within this frightening context that Kalani Pickhart’s extraordinary novel, I Will Die in a Foreign Land, enters the scene. The novel itself is a beautiful pastiche of forms: novelistic plots mix with songs and folktales, manifests of passengers killed in downed planes or in the melee of protest, diaries and recordings, all working to build a feeling, the urge for a democratic voice to speak against violence and despair. Kalani and I discuss the burden of writing true in a work of fiction, and so much more!"

"Phoenix author Kalani Pickhart’s debut novel is a fascinating, genre-bending ride through the 2013 protests in Ukraine that led to a deadly winter and, ultimately, the Ukrainian Revolution... It’s a gripping take on modern historical fiction that will be especially compelling to those interested in Eastern European politics."
—Leah LeMoine, PHOENIX magazine
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"I’d sure like to be a part of the decision-making process for the Pulitzer or the National Book Award right now. If I had any say in it, I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart would win. I don’t say that lightly... The exploration of love and its many complicated facets is the driving force of I Will Die In a Foreign Land. The inciting incident is the protest and the desire for human rights and dignity inherent in that action, but I’d argue the real gem of the story is love. This may sound trite, but it’s not—at least not in Pickhart’s deft writerly hands."
—Mandy Shunnarah, Hot Off the Shelf
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"Pickhart’s characters are alive. You can almost touch them and hear their unique voices. She perfectly fleshes out the individuality of the major characters and those around them with such precision that no one speaks or thinks the same. The movements and decisions of the characters follow real events of the times, making the novel appear like a documentary. By doing this she captures the reader’s interest, and a chronology of important events is listed in the book to help us better understand the flow of the narrative."
—Eunice Barbara Novio, Litro 
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"What author Kalani Pickhart has achieved is a novel that is at once tragic and beautiful. Taking a variety of mediums, from non-linear storytelling, newspaper accounts, and ancient Ukranian folk songs, at times it seems the novel’s main protagonist is [Ukraine] and the characters are simply there to flesh out this complex region of the world... 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."
—Cynthia A. Graham, New York Journal of Books
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"The risk in war and revolution is that human kindness will be extinguished forever, but Kalani Pickhart shows the ways that our loves affect us more deeply and permanently than the ever shifting forces of history. This makes a political struggle that might be a bit confusing for western readers much more accessible—we all know what it’s like to experience love and loss. It also personalizes the conflict. After all, why do we fight, if not to avoid burying the ones we love?"
—Rufus Hickok, Ordinary Times 
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

Hayden’s Ferry Review interview with Kalani Pickhart | 11/16/2021
"From Web Editor Christina D’Antoni: On October 20th [2021], I interviewed Kalani at her book launch at Changing Hands Bookstore for I Will Die In a Foreign Land—her debut novel. We talked a lot about the structure of her book, displacement, grief, and the contextualization of both historical and personal tragedies. What follows are the questions I didn’t ask—questions that felt like “deep cuts,”—too specific to my writerly interests, or too narrow for an in-person audience. I hope you’ll devour her responses like I did, when they popped up weeks after the event in my inbox."

"Blending folklore, journalism, and a quartet of interwoven narratives, Kalani Pickhart’s debut novel, I Will Die in a Foreign Land, takes place during the 2013-14 Ukrainian Revolution amidst a wave of winter protests. Set in Kyiv at the heart of the civil unrest, the novel is orchestral and electrifying, with its main characters—Katya, Misha, Slava, and Aleksandr—orbiting around its central location."
—Aram Mrjoian, Chicago Review of Books 
(Read the full interview with author Kalani Pickhart)

"Set in Ukraine during a pivotal winter, Pickhart follows four individuals during the Euromaidan protests. The four cannot be more different, but they are united by the same desires to survive and make something of themselves. While expansive, this is an intimate portrait of the human condition, proving that even in the darkness, there is hope."
—Adam Vitcavage, Debutiful
"Six Debut Books You Should Read This October"

"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."
The Chicago Review of Books
"12 Must-Read Books of October"

"In Pickhart’s debut, which is set during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, four people's lives overlap, intersect, and irrevocably change in the face of personal, political, and historical turmoil."
—Carolyn Quimby, The Millions 
"The Millions Most Anticipated (October)"

"In Pickhart’s ardent, sprawling debut, a set of memorable characters attempt to lay bare the truths of recent conflicts in [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
(read the full Kirkus review here)

"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

"The historical novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land is a love letter to Ukraine, its people, and its ability to rise up from piled catastrophes."
—Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword

"Protests that sparked the 2014 revolution in Ukraine provide the context for Pickhart’s dazzling debut novel. Drawing from the folkloric oral history of Ukraine and fusing it with the reporting from journalists, Pickhart focuses on a quartet of characters at the center of a Kyiv protest against the president in which more than 100 people were massacred. Pickhart fully develops these intersecting characters, from an American doctor to a former KGB spy, deftly changing points of view, all of which is enhanced by a chorus of past Ukrainian singers killed by a Russian czar."
The National Book Review
(Read the full review of I Will Die in a Foreign Land)

"I Will Die in a Foreign Land is sweeping, touching, and powerful."
Superstition Review

"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

"Kalani Pickhart's I Will Die in a Foreign Land is of the best kind of protest novels: one that makes you cry, and then makes you mad as hell. It is so far the best artistic treatment of the Euromaidan and Crimean situation, at turns tense, melancholy, and over-abundantly compassionate. This book is both the napalm and the bandages in one."
—Conor Hultman, Square Books (Oxford, MS)

"Kyiv, Ukraine, 2013. Katya, Misha, Slava, and Alexsandr Ivanovich all orbit around a makeshift medical clinic at the center of violent protests in debut author Kalani Pickhart's I Will Die in a Foreign Land. This book illuminated much about the period for me, and it did so because I was so thoroughly invested in its compelling characters. How Pickhart manages to construct such a solid and compelling story amid the chaos of the events portrayed (and even incorporates Slavic history and folklore) is unfathomable to me, but she does. You will care about these characters, you will agonize with them over the choices they are forced to make, and you will put this book down, haunted and grieving, but also inspired."
—Lisa Swayze, Buffalo Street Books (Ithaca, NY)

"In a powerful rendition of Ukraine’s troubled past and recent events Kalani Pickhart draws readers into the lives of characters who converge around the 2013 violent repression of demonstrations in Kyiv... With a fresh, bold narrative style that joins reportage and deep character study, Pickhart delivers a series of provocative set pieces that underscore the weight of historical memory and the toll of Russian domination. An eye-opening novel by a stunningly talented writer."
—Lori Feathers, Interabang Books (Dallas, TX)

"Set in motion by the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 and a particular demonstration in Kyiv, Pickhart’s debut novel weaves its way through the lives of four main characters: Katya, an American doctor who has fled the US and her failing marriage to treat wounded protesters in a converted monastery; Aleksandr, a pianist and former Soviet agent who is suffering from a potentially fatal injury; Misha, a widower and an engineer who is searching for his friend, fellow protester, and erstwhile lover, Slava, an activist. As the narrative unfolds, we see how each of the characters, major and minor, are held in a web, every action or inaction rippling throughout."
—10/19/2021 newsletter, Longfellow Books, Portland, ME

"I have never felt quite so speechless when finishing a book. This debut novel—unassuming in its size and yet sharp and intense in its story—completely caught me off guard. Pickhart depicts the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Russia has long kept a tight hold and refused to recognize its status as an independent nation. In 2013, the Ukrainian Revolution and the ongoing War in Donbass broke out, as then-President Yanukovych refused to sign a referendum with the European Union, forging a closer alliance with Russia. This story follows four characters as they fight to secure sovereignty for their country and safety for their loved ones. Pickhart seems to write in the empty space between conflicts, in which life continues despite the hardships of war, and she shows the resiliency of the individual in the face of oppression—the need to find beauty and love amidst destruction. Incredibly complex, heartbreaking, and insightful, this novel is an urgent argument for the presence of humanity in a time of violence."
—Natalie, Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix, AZ

"I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by Kalani Pickhart's debut novel, I Will Die in a Foreign Land. I've not read a lot of books about Ukraine, their recent political struggle, and the people who have fought for their home—plus, I just thought it might be devastatingly sad. And of course, it is sad, but more than that, it's absolutely beautiful and clings to hope so desperately that I was left feeling optimism for the characters that people the novel and for Ukraine itself. Pickhart weaves together the history of Ukraine with the stories of four citizens who have come to the Maidan to fight for the country they love. They move in and out of each other's stories in such a lovely way; Pickhart's writing is quiet, understated, and unexpected. I can't wait to read more from her."
—Margaret Leonard, Dotters Books (Eau Claire, WI)

"Off and on, we hear about unrest in Ukraine. Some of us are aware that it involves Russia. Most of us just know it’s way 'over there somewhere.' But it is a real place, inhabited by real people, with lives not much different than hours. This is a novel about four people amidst the greater population: Aleksandr, a former KGB agent now a part of the resistance; Misha, an engineer who lost his wife to radiation sickness; Ukrainian-American doctor, Katya; and Slava, with hardships enough to make her a formidable activist. As we follow their personal stories, they soon find their paths intertwined and what follows is the November 2013 protest in Kyiv… a protest that would be heard around the world. In addition to the lives of our four friends, we hear the comments from a myriad of other people, also from this time and place. For anyone who wants to know what’s 'going on over there,' this is the book to read. It will open your eyes and hopefully your heart."
—Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, Washington

"Not an easy read—especially right now. Kalani Pickhart tells the devastating story of Russia's last incursion into [Ukraine] in 2014. Alternating between four characters in a non-linear fashion, we experience the tragic history that Russia has influenced over Ukraine. What's lost in all the madness of history are the stories of the individuals lost to events bigger than themselves; Pickhart has given us a glimpse into these four fictional characters that represent this lost voices. Lyrical and haunting, I learned so much reading this amazing novel."
—Jason Kennedy, Boswell Books, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

"This telling of history, woven throughout with song and folklore, which follows the lives of four people during the turbulence of the Maidan protests in Ukraine, is surprisingly intimate and tender."
—Alana Haley, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"A captivating, heartbreaking, poetic, debut novel set during the Euromaidan demonstrations in Ukraine 2013-2014. We follow four characters whose paths cross in the heat of the protests, one of whom, Katya, is a Ukraine-born but Boston-raised physician. Not only a ground-level view of Kiev in the years that shaped the current political situation, but is also structurally innovative and a powerful read."
—Kathy Crowley, Belmont Books, Belmont, Massachusetts

"debut novel from a powerful voice. I Will Die in a Foreign Land is a political novel about protests and the things we have to do to make the world livable, even if it wreaks havoc on our personal lives. this text feels alive as it is interspersed with historical snippets. heavy with loss, Pickhart's book feels deeply sad, even as it aspires toward hope. this novel is for everyone who has ever thrown it all on the line with no assurance that things will work out."
—Douglas Riggs, Bank Square Books, Mystic, Connecticut


Reader Guide:

Click here to view and/or download the I Will Die in a Foreign Land reader guide as a PDF.

BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion

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 Ukraine: what effect did this structure have on your reading experience? How do the asides add value to the main narratives and plot?

4. The four main characters of the novel are Aleksandr, Katya, Misha, and Slava: what are each of their backstories? In what ways do their lives intersect?

5. “The father begets the daughter—the lion begets the lion.” (p. 198) How is this line, from Salva’s reunion with her father, fitting for larger themes of the story? What do you make of the recurring references to lions, cats, and kittens?

6. What role do cassette tapes play in this story? Which characters recorded them and which listened to them? How do the tapes connect the different characters of this braided novel?

7. Upon arriving to the chaos in Kyiv, Katya thinks: “We’re all under water here... Shaken loose like silt. An undertow. A baptism. A drowning.” (p. 13) Throughout the novel, Katya’s descriptions and analogies continue to involve themes of water: what do you make of this?

8. Throughout this novel, the author chose to prominently feature Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring: Pictures from Pagan Russia in Two Parts, whose music and choreography so challenged its audience that a riot broke out during its 1913 premiere in Paris. The ballet’s plot revolves around ancient Slavic pagans performing a ritual to ensure the coming of a new spring. Stravinsky is also quoted as saying: “My earliest memory is of the sound of the ice breaking on the River Neva in St. Petersburg near where I was born. It was the sound that marked the beginning of a new year, a new spring.” (p. 118) How do you interpret the importance of that is given to the theme of a new spring in this novel?

9. Of the ballet, Aleksandr says: “The pagans in The Rite of Spring sacrifice a woman, the Chosen One, so they might survive as a tribe. I wonder about this often—the individual loss for the collective gain.” (p. 192) How does this idea relate to the novel’s themes? Can you think of various examples of who or what is “sacrificed” in this book in a way that benefits others?

10. While describing who the Kobzari are to young Aleksandr circa the 1950s, the old piano man says to him: “Music, Aleksandr. It is a powerful, dangerous thing... We must do all we can to protect it.” (p. 47) Who are the Kobzari? Why did the older Russian man think music was dangerous? What effect did the old piano man’s teachings have on Aleksandr? What importance does music have to specific characters, and to the novel in general?

11. The old piano man also teaches young Aleksandr that “In Soviet times, it was dangerous to believe in God” (p. 49), referring to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s often violent suppression of religious beliefs, in favor of atheism. How are ideas of religious freedom explored in this novel?

12. Misha’s mother tells Katya: “We come from Kozak blood, my dear. Misha’s ancestors were all Kozak, both sides. He’s been waiting for war his whole life without knowing.” (p. 184) Who are the Kozaks (AKA Cossacks)? How does this statement relate to the larger themes in the novel of war and conflict in this region? What is Misha’s fate?

13. Through the character of Dascha Bandura—a journalist who has been living in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk, near the border with Russia in the disputed Donbass region—we are able to see both sides of the recent and ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia: what are Dascha’s views on the conflict?

14. How are the roles of, and risks to, journalists who are covering the Ukrainian Revolution illustrated through the character of Dascha Bandura? What is her fate? How else are journalists and others who are documenting the conflict in Ukraine depicted?

15. Dascha, a self-described lesbian filmmaker, says to her lover Slava, who was involved in FEMEN—the radical protest group for women’s rights before they moved from Ukraine to France: “Today, we fight against Putin. Tomorrow, we fight against hate.” (p. 116) What do you think about this conclusion of Dascha’s, that for a country experiencing civil unrest and war, the goal of working toward equal rights must wait? What are some of the ways in which this novel explores issues of human rights, homophobia, and the abuse of girls and women?

16. How is the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster and its consequences explored through the characters of Misha and Vera, and Misha’s mom, who is a samosely?

17. In what ways does the author include information about the Holodomor—the intentional famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians by starvation in 1932–1933?

18. In Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, where Misha works as an engineer in the coal mines, he is persistently offered a special job by his manager, Oleg. Why is Misha conflicted over this offer, and what does he ultimately decide to do? Why do you think it was important to the author to include illegal coal mines, or kopanky, in the book?

19. Aleksandr’s audio cassette recording sections begin with him as a young Soviet soldier arriving in Czechoslovakia to suppress the liberalization reforms known as the Prague Spring. What did Aleksandr think of his role? What echoes are there between the Prague Spring and the Euromaidan protests?

20. Aleksandr returns to Czechoslovakia again, this time as a KGB spy named Stepan. What is his mission and how does he feel about it? What has changed for him since the last time he was in Prague?

21. Arrange this list of character names on a white board or large background paper with arrows and words explaining the various connections and relationships:
Adam
Aleksandr Arkadyevich Ivanovich (AKA Sasha, Stepan)
Alexis
Anna
Anna Arkadyevna Ivanova
Dascha Bandura
Jara (Jarmila) Kučerova
Katya (Ekaterina)
Misha (Mikhail) Tkachenko
Nedezdha (Nadia) Stepaneva Vasilieva
Petyr
Slava (Yaroslava) Orlyk
Vera
Zoya


Sneak Peek

Enjoy a sneak peek of select pages from I Will Die in a Foreign Land!
View I Will Die in a Foreign Land sneak peek on Issuu.com

Kalani Pickhart’s I Will Die in a Foreign Land book cover


AUTHOR:

Kalani Pickhart is the author of the historical novel I Will Die in a Foreign Land, which has received praise from CBS News, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, and more. The novel is long-listed for the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award, and was named one of the New York Public Library's "Best Books for Adults" of 2021. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, TriQuarterly Review, and elsewhere. Kalani was selected as an inaugural 2022 New Voices Literary Fellow for the Sun Valley Writers' Conference and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Intelligence for Eastern European and Eurasian Studies. Kalani currently lives and writes in Phoenix, Arizona. Find more here: kalanipickhart.com

Visit the Kalani Pickhart author page on our publishing website for additional details and interviews.


INFO:

FORMAT: Hardcover (1st printing only)
LIST PRICE: $25 USD
PAGES: 300
HARDCOVER RELEASE DATE: 10/19/2021
HARDCOVER PRINT ISBN: 9781953387080
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"

FORMAT: Paperback
LIST PRICE: $18.95 USD
PAGES: 300
PAPERBACK RELEASE DATE: 5/10/2022
PAPERBACK PRINT ISBN: 9781953387301
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"

Additional formats:
AUDIOBOOK: available from Tantor Media (Dec 21, 2021)
DIGITAL EBOOK ISBN: 9781953387097

Printed in Canada by Marquis, with the following environmental statement:
*Printed on Rolland Enviro. This paper contains 100% post-consumer fiber, is manufactured using renewable energy - Biogas and processed chlorine free.
*FSC certified paper (inside and cover).



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