Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ambassador of the Dead

I have already broken my resolution to expand my reading selections. Askold Melnyczuk’s Ambassador of the Dead is exactly why I made the resolution in the first place.

Nick, the book’s narrator, lives in two worlds. As the child of immigrant parents, in this case from post-WWII Ukraine, Nick straddles the new world and the old.

Most of the story, though, concentrates on Ada, a contemporary of Nick’s parents. Nick tells her story—both what happened in Ukraine before, during, and after the war and what she experiences as an immigrant in New Jersey.

Ada believes she sees and speaks to family members who were killed during the war—thus making herself an ambassador of the dead.

I enjoyed the book—though the content is certainly not enjoyable—but I'm starting to show the signs of overdose. Melnyczuk is a fine writer. Yet, as a self-proclaimed aficionado of the genre (Ukrainian immigrant literature), nothing about Ambassador of the Dead stands out from the rest. The story feels familiar—as if I have read it many times before.

The book does raise several important questions: how do we live with the past? How can those with dark pasts (survivors of war, genocide, famine) function in the new world? And what is our responsibility towards past generations?

As I mentioned, though, I am in danger of an overdose. These books have penetrated my subconscious, and on some level I’m starting to believe my own family history resembles those of the immigrants in these books (which it certainly does not—though it is equally as scandalous in its own way). I have to change topics before I lose my identity permanently.

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