Earrings for a Black Day: Surviving Perestroika in Russia

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iUniverse, May 11, 2010 - Fiction - 224 pages
2 Reviews
This book provides a real sense of what it was like to live at the time when the Soviet Union collapsed. The reader will step in and participate in the lives of the characters, realizing the devastating impact Perestroika had on the people of Russia. Dont be born beautiful, but be born fortunate, the Russian people say, believing that fate exists. On graduation day, a provincial teacher gives her daughter a pair of priceless antique earringsthe only remaining evidence of the familys former nobilityinsisting they must be kept for a black day. As if a spell has been cast, Lenas life begins falling apart: her fianc is killed in Afghanistan, she loses her baby, and, after a brutal assault, is forced into prostitution. Victor is a military officer who has gone through the bloody meat grinder of Afghanistan. Returning home, he doesnt recognize the country he left a few years ago: he has no place to live, no possibility of employment, and no money in the bank. His only recourse in civilian life is to become a hired killer for his former commander. This novel takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Just when Lena and Victor seem to find happiness in their lives, fate intervenes through the forces of war, poverty, and death. The reader will finish the book greatly enriched with a deeper understanding of Soviet history, culture, and that mysterious Russian soul.

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As an American native to Russia, Ms. Austin’s historical fiction reflects her valuable perspective on the Russian peoples’ experience during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and Gorbachev’s presidency.
Mila Austin’s background defines her unique style. Like so many timeless Russian novels, every word, event, and symbol in Earrings for a Black Day is heavy with meaning. This offers an invigorating intensity in all places of the story, captivating interest with every chapter. She also provides a certain emotional zeal that rouses the reader to empathize with characters. Unlike many pieces of well-known Russian literature in America, Ms. Austin’s novel is originally written in English, loosing no value through translation.
While her style is fast paced and brisk, descriptive passages are vivid and stark. This page-turner is written economically and is full of suspense. The plot of this story has universality, and is believably the experience of many Russian women of this time.
Throughout the book, the reader is reminded that in Russia, it is better to be born fortunate than beautiful. The main character's experiences define her character, as her young life becomes marked with confusion, unfairness, and loss. As her life begins to slowly unravel, the Soviet Union itself is deteriorating. Through her, the author draws attention to the complexity of Russian life during this period.
It is through the soldiers’ return to Gorbachev’s Russia that the changes in politics and society are explored. With their experience, Ms. Austin gives us insight into the corruption and life of the wealthy few in Communist Russia. During the well-crafted convergence of the characters’ lives, the author sheds light onto issues of salvation, religion, and restitution.
The character development in this book is exceptional. The characters’ lives change as they learn the harsh realities that were evident during this critical time in history. Despite their dramatic trials, the characters still learn what hope means, and why it is important. In fact, it transforms their future in unexpected ways.
Mila Austin provides a perspective not commonly heard in the West, of what life was like in the Soviet Union for most of the people during Perestroika. All the while, this book gives us a comprehensive account of Russian and Soviet history, as told by the Russians.
This is a must-read by all lovers of history, culture, and Russian literature.
Hilary Orzel
International Historian & Policy Expert

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Bold characters and solid story line.
For anybody familiar with Gorbachev's era Russia this book is recalls something in mind.
Distinct russian words add flavor and realizm.
I liked it

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About the author (2010)

Mila Austin was born in Russia. She worked for the Science Research Institute, developing software for the Soviet military defense system. She immigrated to the U.S.A. in 2000, and earned her second degree from a university in North Carolina. Despite Mila’s technical background, writing has always been her passion. She loves both countries—her motherland and the U.S.A. “We don’t get to choose the place we are born, and can’t be judged by our origin,” she says. “American people asked me many questions about life in Russia. They wanted to know the inside story so they could compare it to what they’ve seen on TV. That’s why I’ve written this book.”

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