Recently I reconnected with a woman I’d known long ago, during dreamy, youthful days (the early ’70s) on an island in Greece where we both lived. “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end …”  though we didn’t “… sing and dance forever and a day…” As it’s turned out, I’m now in NYC and Mary’s in (who’s have guessed it) Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Have a look at her website:  Quite impressive. Quite surprising. What a winding and wonderful journey she’s taken.  And now, she’s published an historical novel, titled: NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA.
Here’s the gist: It is 1919. The Russian Civil War rages in the Ukraine. Elvira Maria Andrushko, a mother, recently widowed, flees the embattled countryside bound for the safe haven, Odessa. As the night train approaches she is violently separated from her small children and arrives in the seaport alone and traumatized. Bewildered by the city’s harshness, alienated by unhelpful authorities, and tormented above all by her loss, she searches Odessa hoping to find her children. When Elvira Maria meets Michail Lukashenko, an artisan with a puppet theatre, she is attracted by his charm and the fairy tale performances that entertain hundreds of children, who could be her own. But the innocent faces cheering in the crowds are not all happy, nor have they all come to watch the show. Elvira Maria reluctantly enters an underworld where the price of life and the cost of war dictate the terms of survival. NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA is a beautiful and moving novel of hope and courage, and a loving tribute to Odessa.
Have a look, the book’s just been released, is being launched by its publisher while, simultaneously, traveling on a train to the city at it’s heart in the hands of a well-meaning courier.  Here’s the ticket for that journey to Odessa:
The author explains the reason for that ticket: “The young woman, Mariya Reva, a former architecture student of mine at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, is Ukrainian with family ties to Odessa. She knew I was writing this book and was excited when she heard it was going to be launched this September in Santa Fe. Though she lives in New Jersey, she was headed to Ukraine in a matter of days. Unknown to me, she had a train ticket – dated September 13, 2023 – for the night train that runs between Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine. I quickly sent her a box containing my book, NIGHT TRAIN TO ODESSA, to take with her and to share with readers in Ukraine – especially in Odessa. Hence, the photos of her reading the book on the train, arriving at the historic Odessa railroad station, visiting the book bazaars, and finally being photographed in front of the iconic Odessa Opera House – the same image featured on the book.”
What a sober, also touching, story. A fraught story, a fraught location as a different war ‘rages’ between Ukraine and Russian Federation … rages on and on and on … sucking the life out of all of us.
As it happens, two different neighbor on my floor are from Ukraine–the neighbor on my left from Kiev, the one to the right from Odessa. My own grandparents  left their families behind (see photos of great grandparents below) in Ukraine (then a part of Russia) to travel to America–by foot, train, ship, and subway to Brooklyn–between 1906-1908. It’s a country that UNESCO has designated with eight sites on the World Heritage List; it’s given us the writings of Lesya Ukrainka, Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel, as well as more than eighty-five chess grand masters, and much more.
I’ve never traveled to this consequential country, and regret it. I’ve visited its neighbors–Poland, Russia, Hungary–but somehow, with all other cross-crossings, didn’t make it–have never trod on its fertile steppes, nor glimpsed it’s rivers, even the River Bug though my heart was in my mouth during the hours long footage of that river on screen in Claude Lanzmann’s sprawling documentary “Shoah” and again, on first reading Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (over which the ‘wild grasses rustle’) since this is where the relatives (who didn’t make it to American) probably perished and were never heard from again.
Congratulations on such a serious, very readable, imagined evocation of a time and place, Mary Grow!
“My only weapon, dear words that I cherish,
We must ensure that not both of us perish “
from a poem by Lesya Ukrainka