Saturday, June 05, 2010


A Ukrainian family "discovers" their Jewishness, and then seeks to emigrate. They spend some time with a relative in the country before leaving. On the day before leaving, the young boy (Ivan) discovers a mysterious frozen woman lying the forest.

He goes on to live in the United States where he grows up and and becomes an active runner and decathlete. He eventually goes to graduate school where he studies ancient Slavic fairy tales. As part of his dissertation work he goes to Ukraine to study some primary sources. After being there for a while, he decides to go back and visit his relative. While there, he runs back through the forest, where he sees the mysterious woman, eventually wakes her, and, to save himself from a bear, proposes marriage.

After proposing marriage, he follows here across a bridge to her world, which turns out to be a thousand-year old medieval village that has recently converted to Christianity and adopted the Cyrillic alphabet. As a scholar he is in heaven. Here is the answer he is seeking in his dissertation as well as many new language and historical discoveries. (What scholar wouldn't love to go live among his primary sources?)

Unfortunately, the fairy tales are also "real" and he has to battle the evil witch Baba Yaga and the bear. Eventually, he takes the princess back to America, where he discovers his cousin is actually a god. Baba Yaga also follows them, deciding to take an airplane back to her world. They all return to the ancient world where they strip her of her "bindings" and free the village. Ivan and the princess live happily ever after, splitting time between the ancient and the modern worlds.

The book explores a number of interesting topics together. Time travel, fairy tales, language origins, "missing history", and "fish out of water experiences" all could provide interesting novels on their own. Together it works quite well. Throughout the book there is some "mysterious force" that nobody understands, though it is actively hinted. This seems almost ready to be made in to a movie.

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