Alina is living in several different worlds. Within this novel there are many chapters each reflecting on different phases and viewpoints of events that impacted her life. Each chapter is told either in her own voice or by a narrator describing the events in a sense it’s a timeline of the life which include the pitfalls, the betrayals and the decline of a marriage that should not have taken place.
It begins with the chapter titled The Low People in our Family which centers around her mystical Aunt Theresa and her cousin Matei and a family trip to a Monastery where she learns the truth about her grandfather’s fate. Living in Soviet Romania under the spotlight of the Secret Service where freedoms are few if anyone and watchful eyes and ears are everywhere. Her mom favors the Communist way of life as opposed to her aunt who takes her to run old world illegal jaunts and missions.
Alina marries and for some reason seems to always want to please everyone but herself. Worrying about her husband’s wants, and pleasing her critical and overbearing mom, her life flows like a calm river until the waves erupt and the storm clouds burst when her brother in law defects band life takes a sinister turn.
Chapter 2, Glazed Apples shares her job as a tour guide hoping to entice visitors to fall in love with this country. It is at this resort where she meets Liviu and at first things seem to gel but her life after a while will unravel like a sweater where the threads are coming apart until there is nothing left.
Living in her own dreamworld Alina shares her wishlist with us hoping that at some time she will get at least one item on it. A pair of Levi blue jeans or even a portable electric stove so she can cook her food instead of using the immersion heater. Always concerned about others she wants to be able to pay her husband’s tuition or make her mother decide to help support her through school. Her wedding is not typical and feeling like an outsider looking in and it is not the magical day she envisioned. But her life takes a dive when her brother in law defects and everything changes. The day is Saturday and it starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends with her husband facing two government men taking him in to be questioned in a fashion that will change their lives sending them down a dark rabbit hole.
Her mother is not nurturing or caring but self-serving and critical of Alina and from the start does not like her husband . Liviu falls under the watchful eyes of an inspector who explains where he is needed and why. His job involves the train as transportation and to fit in with comrades he drinks to oblivion at times.
Alina takes many trips in a downward path as she finds herself as a teacher in a school that is run in a totalitarian manner and where students are treated as prisoners at times and the punishments and interrogations no different then that of an adult. An incident involving a child bringing a magazine to school, hiding it from sight and the result Alina is accused of not handling it right or reporting it properly. The inspector in charge wants to interrogate all the students showing no understanding or empathy for them. Added in her fellow comrade teachers shun her and do not want her to even have coffee with them when they learn about her brother in law who has disappeared from their lives.
All she wants is her life back and her husband seems divorced in his own mind from understanding her feelings, needs and wants and the one that seems to center her is Aunt Theresa.
Strigoi is next and how this magic play into it is described what does Holy water have to do with this? Hoping not to have to fear that two secret service agents are waiting for her when she gets home. How not to attract attention from communist authorities and quotes from my mother are critiques of her actions, her husband and his family making it seem like she is a hopeless case.
Her teaching methods were authoritarian and the poor child , Atanasiu Maria never had a chance. Embarrassing her was not even a thought and the fact she missed classes did not excuse her being unprepared. The Hunt is chilling as the agent or inspector comes out of nowhere and torments her. Did her husband speak about the dungeon or his interrogation which changes him? Visit s to Aunt Theresa are unique and she explains during one about the children, the magazine and the man with the scar above his eye. His looks are frightening and his innuendos even more. Quotes from her mother part 2 talking about a young child, Alexandra who ran off with a married man and then goes back to his wife. Then we learn about the math exercise book and why her colleagues excluded her and how she tries to get it published to no avail on her own. It seems she is constantly up against roadblocks and never ever truly fights like an adult with confidence and conviction. What happens with Victor is demeaning and how she complies a list of reasons for an Italian VISA so they can hope to leave vans be free is followed by a typewriter from her mother to create her own book and a flashback from the past.
The ultimate betrayal cones when her mother realizes she wants to leave and reports it to authorities thinking she’s entities to have her as her private caregiver and slave do to speak as author Sophia Van Llewyn devises a plan right out of Faye Dunaway as Mommy Dearest. Stopped and then interrogated and abused by the secret service . Alina and Aunt Theresa devise a plan of revenge that is humorous, unsettling and diabolical. Just how do they get even with her mother, just where do they put her and how plus what about her marriage? We meet her years in the future where we learn her fate and how she matures. A life under the wing of others did she finally come out and spread her own. Just wanted to be accepted and treated as an equal and a child that a mother could be proud of. An ending and a last line that makes you wonder if this is over. Just who is the Bottled Goods?
Sad yet humorous and filled with realistic facts about Romania and Communism. Alina changes throughout each chapter to the final timeline where we learn just how magic changes it all or did it?
Fran Lewis just reviews