Baba Dunja's Last Love / Alina Bronsky; translated from the German by Tim Mohr.
New York: Europa Editions, c2016.
I loved this book! I loved the physicality of it -- the size, the cover, even the font. And I really enjoyed the story.
Baba Dunja is a babushka who was displaced from her original village by the Chernobyl disaster. But she, and a few other aged residents, have decided that living in city apartments is for the birds, and have returned to their homes in Tchernowo.
Alongside Baba Dunja, there's her neighbour Marja, a former beauty; Petrow, generally ill and obsessed with finding any reading material possible; Lenotschka who spends most of her time quietly knitting; the nearly 100 yr old Sidorow who proposes to Baba Dunja and then to Marja; the Gavrilow couple who keep to themselves; and we can't forget the ghosts who keep Baba Dunja company, who include her ex-husband.
But into the remote and isolated stasis that they've managed to achieve in their restored community comes a stranger -- a middle aged man and a little girl. When Baba Dunja investigates, thinking that it's a terrible thing to bring a child to this radioactive town, things go badly wrong. Everyone in the village is implicated in the following events, and as Baba Dunja once again takes leadership, she becomes an international cause.
The book is light, charming despite its serious underpinnings, and really engages with the idea of home. Baba Dunja has family in Germany - her daughter and granddaughter are there, and she revels in their letters. But she wants to stay home in Tchernowo until the end. I felt that the concept of this book was heavily influenced by the real life "Babushkas of Chernobyl", a group of Ukrainian women who returned to their ancestral homes after the disaster, unable to thrive away from the land.
But in the blurb for the book, it says that Tchernowo is a Ukrainian village - from some clues in the text I think it's more likely that it is on the Belarussian side of things. Just a minor quibble in a really enjoyable read however. I'm going to be reading more of Alina Bronsky in future.