3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Taras, ballet instructor and barber, his wife and daughter are part of a small group of immigrants living in Bradford, England 30 years after the Russian genocide of the Ukrainian people. Traditional Easter week events are disrupted by the visit of a priest who isn’t a priest and some old-country relatives. Long buried secrets and international espionage certainly mix Orthodox services up a bit. Throw in a persnickety Russian Blue cat and samahon (moonshine) and holy week goes to hell in a handbasket sooner rather than later.
I had no idea that Ukrainian Orthodox holy week events could be stretched out for 109 chapters. Every stray thought during the all-night mass for the Feast of Our Lady, every armpit scratch and fart from the uncouth twin sisters Zena and Lenka, and every diabolical plot hatched by Mister Pushkin, the cat, were detailed in The Dancing Barber by A.C. Michael. The ponderousness of it all kept secret revelations from being startling occasions. Several catastrophes were humorous rather than dire which lightened up the somber background setting of genocide.
I found the language issue a little confusing at times. Taras and Halyna had been living in England for some time. Their interactions with native English speakers, like the park manager and police officer, would naturally be in English, albeit broken English. Their daughter, Sofia, mentions that Klem, the border, speaks better English than either of her parents and is her surrogate parent at school events because of that. Thus Halyna’s use of “goodski” for the word good seemed appropriate.
However, Zena, a recent visitor from Ukraine, would have used her native language when interacting with others, especially in a moment of high emotion, like when she confronted the Captain who arrested her father 30 years previously. Yet, Zena shouts “I said for you to shut the face! You son of the lady dog!” which is a humorous example of native language interference with second language acquisition. Understandably, since the book was written in English, with just a sampling of Ukrainian words throughout, there wouldn’t have been a way to fully express this language divergence well.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Plot progression was slow to accommodate the enormous amount of details and lengthy reflections of the characters, including the cat and Brenda the hamster. That’s not to say it wasn’t an interesting read, though. I learned some new terms, about some Ukrainian customs, and just a touch of history through the precise retelling of events provided by the author. On the other hand, several of the unsavory incidents involving the twins made me queasy and I had to stop reading for a time. Readers who balk at too much realism might not enjoy this book as much. If you are up for a challenging read, full of old country humor, then this is the book for you.
The Dancing Barber
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like CTdeF's review? Post a comment saying so!