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Radka Yakimov
The Long Journey to the Fair
The Long Journey to the Fair is a book about the consequences of wars, oppressive totalitarian regimes, intolerance, and prejudice. The stories told are of people whose lives had been impacted by these historical events and attitudes, and their search for a place of safety, peace, and security. It describes the meandering journey of generations of Armenian and Jewish families, the travails of Eastern Europeans and the Italian family after WWII, and the bonds created by their common destinies.
In an evocative series of vignettes, Yakimov explores conflict, intolerance, and what it means to be a refugee through the experiences of an ethnically diverse set of Eastern Bloc families forced to flee their homelands before, during, and after WWII. Most of the short and factual impressions are given voice by Ms. Konstantinov, a Toronto college professor and Bulgarian emigré who introduces herself by recounting a long-ago dream of going to a fair.

Yakimov, herself a Bulgarian emigré to Canada and onetime college professor, writes in a distinctive detached and matter-of-fact voice (one chapter heading is “And Here Comes a Guy Called Ludmil”; another introduces “The Melancholy Figure Standing on a Bridge, the Crazy Lady, and the Strange Attraction Felt by Men to Girls with Blond Hair”). The dispassionate narration, which reads a bit like listening to Greta Garbo as Ninotchka, allows the episodes to unfold succinctly, though at times the descriptions are curious (“a gust of warm air suddenly oozing by”). The author’s voice suits the impressionistic nature of the work, but it leads to challenging brevity. There are too many subjects; each individual portrait is focused up close but the fuller picture appears blurry and vague, like a pointillist painting in reverse. The epilogue attempts to wrap things up but then takes off on a new tangent, albeit one that extends one of the book’s themes. It barrels up out of nowhere and readers get only a glimpse before it fades out.

After mourning the separations caused by Balkanization and the Iron Curtain, Yakimov evokes hope by shows her characters intersecting in large and small ways. Readers who spot a connection or two will feel encouraged to seek more, and will also search for metaphorical and literal journeys to the fair.

Takeaway: Readers who want to explore the human side of the Cold War will appreciate this series of Eastern Bloc immigration narratives.

Great for fans of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Shadow Land, Ismail Kadare.

Production grades
Cover: C
Design and typography: C+
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B-