3 out of 4 stars
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The Road to Donetsk, by Diane Chandler, is a fictional story that takes place mostly in Kiev and Donetsk, Ukraine, during the 1990’s. Vanessa Parker, an international aid worker from England, has just arrived in Kiev in 1994 as the program manager for a new aid program focused on helping the Ukranians find new jobs in their transition from communism. She hasn't been there long when she meets Dan, another aid worker and the Deputy Head of USAID, who not only steals her heart, but also introduces her to the people of Donetsk, who steal her heart in a whole different way. Donestk is a mining community, but there is talk that the mines are going to close, and even while they’re open, the workers don’t always receive their wages. Vanessa is instantly drawn to the people in Donestk, especially the smart and hard-working women who do anything they can to help get their families through these rough times, and she is determined to focus a portion of the aid program on this special village. The story goes on through Vanessa and Dan's budding relationship, as he helps her navigate the political and cultural issues she faces in her determination to make a difference in the lives of the Ukranians.
I really enjoyed this book, and I’m a bit sad that I have no more of it left to read. The writing was great; descriptive, but not in that throw every single detail, of every single thing, in every single scene in your face kind of way. The characters were well developed and I feel like I really got to know them. Even better, I liked them. I can’t stand when I don’t like the main characters of a book. But this wasn't like that. I was rooting for Vanessa the whole way through. At the same time, the characters weren't perfect. They had flaws. They made mistakes. They were human.
As for the setting, I have to admit that I knew pretty much nothing at all about Ukraine before I read this book. Getting to know the area, especially the village of Donestk was great. Everything was described in such a way that I felt like I could actually picture it in my mind. I could see the stretches of deserted, snow-covered land around Chernobyl. I could see the gray buildings in Kiev, with bars on the windows, and smell the stench of cigarettes in their stairwells. I could picture the beauty of the lilacs in bloom in that same city, and dandelions in the grass. I could see the woman bent over a washtub in Donestk, scrubbing a shirt clean. I really enjoyed getting to know the people, their hardships, and their culture.
It did take me awhile to get into this book, however. The way the first part of the story was laid out occasionally threw me off, and I had trouble following it for a bit. And there was a lot of information to be introduced to, as well as a lot of people. There were also a lot of British phrases and words that I had never heard before, but instead of it being an impediment, I found it rather interesting. Eventually the story sucked me in and I couldn't put it down.
The second half of the book is what leads me to rate it as highly as I do. The first half was interesting, but the second half was full of human emotion. I felt for the characters. I felt their pain, their frustration, and their joy. And I felt it strongly. It had the kind of emotion that keeps me turning the pages of a book long past when I should have put it down.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about different areas of the world, or enjoys a love story. And to anyone who gives it a shot, my advice is to keep going even if the beginning doesn't hook you. I give this story 3 out of 4 stars, and I would definitely be interested in reading future work from this author.
The Road To Donetsk
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