Monday, January 3, 2011

A review about Bye-bye Natalia.

   Bye-bye Natalia is one of the O.Henry prize stories of 2008. It was written by Michel Faber, who was born in the Netherlands but was raised in Australia. Faber worked as a nurse, and he was inspired to write this story after he took part in the "Writers in the Frontline" project of Medecines Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders), which sent authors to emergency zones all over the world.
  Bye-bye Natalia is the story of an Ukrainian woman in her twenties, who lives on the outskirts of Odessa in one of the old communist-era apartment buildings, where she shares kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities with four other people she doesn't get along with.
   Through a website addressed to men searching for a "mail bride" Natalia meets a middle-aged man from Montana, Bob. The guy, who is divorced and has three teenage kids, leads a comfortable but rather lonely life in the United States of America.
    The story carries us to Odessa, where we are invited to learn every detail about Natalia's world: her workplace where she sells modern music CDs, the internet cafe where she exchanges e-mails with Bob, the streets, the buses, her home.
    Natalia is highly motivated to find a way  of leaving Ukraine. She dreams of a civilized country where hospitals work. She hopes that marrying Bob will set her free from her miserable existence in Odessa. She also harbours the illusion of being able to fall in love with this American guy.
     It's in their exchange of e-mails that we learn how their relationship unravels, and we continue to do so in Natalia's dreams, expectations and thoughts.
      What I really enjoyed about the story was the realistic settings, the complex nature of the characters, their motivations and their interactions. As I read the story I felt that I was right there, beside Natalia, at all times.
    I have to admit that the end left me starving for more information about Natalia's fate and the outcome of her relationship with Bob. It was not difficult to empathize with her, and to understand her motivations and disappointments.
 Odessa could be like any city in the developing capitalist countries, and Natalia's  challenges of dealing with disease and poverty, might as well belong to somebody living in the United States of America.

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