Calling Ukraine: A Novel (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
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 start-up 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 breakup and still grieving his father’s death, 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 offers the neighbor 100,000 hryvnias to stop. It’s a plan born out of the best intentions, but one that has disastrous repercussions that no amount of money or altruism can solve.
“[A] biting comedy” (Vanity Fair) that calls to mind 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 insight to illuminate the inevitable complexities of doing right by others.
About the Author
Johannes Lichtman’s debut novel,?Such Good Work, was chosen as a?5 Under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation.?His work has appeared in?Tin House,?The Sun,?Travel + Leisure,?Los Angeles Review of Books,?Oxford American, and elsewhere.?He lives in Washington, DC.
“Lichtman’s light touch is a welcome reminder of the humor and wit that, as he points out in a preface written after Russia’s invasion last year, pervades Ukrainian culture even now.”
—New York Times Book Review
"[A] biting comedy."
"Sardonic, twisty... the novel makes sharp points about mutual understanding between US residents and people living in countries of the former Soviet bloc."
"Slyly cerebral... Through it all, Lichtman returns to the novel’s locus: an exploration of language, how our limits of expression—linguistically and emotionally—likewise limit our ability to fully know others, and the tragic ways we constantly talk past each other. As he balances these myriad thematic threads with a complete mastery of tone, Lichtman never gives into messages of either misery or contentment, instead asserting their ever-presence in our lives and particular symbiosis. A playful, incisive, and deeply human novel of cultural and personal disconnect."
No good deed goes unpunished in this madcap dark comedy... Lichtman delivers a perfect send-up of the American abroad... This is devlish and energizing."
"A stylish and often surprising American-expatriate novel for the not-quite-post-colonial age—and a portrait of Ukraine in the run-up to Russia's 2022 assault... Perhaps most impressive is Lichtman's high-wire act of tone... A sometimes rollicking, sometimes tragedy-tinged novel about a not-so-innocent abroad."
—Kirkus (Starred Review)
"A book full of unexpected laughter, strangeness and delight, plus one of the most demented workplace tragicomedies ever written."
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Our Country Friends
"In his masterful second novel, Johannes Lichtman digs down into the wonders and banal horrors of what it means to be 'free'--as a well-meaning, semi-clueless American man abroad, or as a Ukrainian woman trapped in a cycle of domestic abuse. Although written before the current Russian invasion, every situation feels freighted with the country's past and future. Slim and subtle and sharply observed, this novel gripped me from its opening pages to its chilling denouement.
—Laura Sims, author of Looker
"Lichtman’s delightful, gripping novel offers screwball banter, a send-up of American start-up culture, an expat romance with a dark Hitchockian left turn, a hero who, despite chronically second-guessing himself, has a knack for saying the wrong thing, and the perception-enhancing defamiliarization that only happens when an innocent with fine antennae ventures abroad—in this case, to Ukraine, a country whose tensions are deftly shown by Lichtman to be crucial to our political moment."
—Caleb Crain, author of Overthrow
"Johannes Lichtman's great subject is morally compromised idealism, and he brings to it an electric intelligence and an allergy to ready-made judgments. Calling Ukraine is the funniest tragedy I've ever read, or maybe the saddest comedy; it's also a merciless dissection of American moral vanity. Lichtman's brilliance lies in showing how all our categories—for books, for people--are inadequate. He's one of the most exciting novelists working today."
—Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
PRAISE FOR SUCH GOOD WORK
“Lichtman [is] a remarkable thinker and social satirist…Such Good Work introduces a writer who is willing to openly contradict himself, to stand corrected, to honor both men and women, to ask sincere questions and let them ring unanswered.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Lichtman's low-key treatment of two highly charged subjects is refreshing.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS
“[An] excellent and timely debut. Lichtman expertly infuses his multicontinental narrative with humor and humanity…[Jonas'] heartfelt actions stick with the reader in this winning novel.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Such Good Work is...wary of affectation or grandstanding; it works small, as if from a sense of modesty, a reluctance to presume; it cuts sincerity with the driest of humor.”—THE NEW YORKER