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Book excerpt: "I Will Die In a Foreign Land" by Kalani Pickhart

Kalani Pickhart's debut novel, "I Will Die In a Foreign Land" (Two Dollar Radio), is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Ukraine in 2014 at a time of revolution, and of lives intersecting as the country's political situation deteriorates.

Read an excerpt below.

Two Dollar Radio

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery
January 19, 2014

The snow in Boston, Katya thinks, must be thick like cake. She flicks her cigarette. A black cloud of burning tires near the Maidan less than a mile away forces a cough. The air is frigid. The injured have not rested. The light outside is disappearing.

St. Michael's appears to be inside an apocalyptic snow globe: golden spirals, eye-blue walls, ember and ash ethereal. The bell tower stands like a soldier. Indeed, it is.

We're all under water here, Katya thinks. Shaken loose like silt. An undertow. A baptism. A drowning. Last spring, Boston had a bombing. Now, she was in Kyiv.

Kyiv had been burning for months. The tactical police force—the Berkut—had started attacking thousands of peace­ful protestors at the Maidan in November. St. Michael's opened its doors, bells ringing and priests singing, and the people came from Maidan to the church. Hundreds had been injured; some were dead. Distrust of the government caused hospitals to turn up in the streets. In shoe stores, in the Hotel Ukraine. In St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery.

Here, Katya is far from home.

The holy men of the church—men of all faiths—start to pray, to hold a vigil. They took the bodies to a makeshift morgue in the back of the church and the people prayed.

God is still here, they said. They said: Pray.

Vigilance. Vigilance. Stay awake.

Katya's son, Isaac, would have been six years old and still cherub-faced. Ezra had sent her an email that she hadn't yet read. Katya looks at her phone, the message from her husband.

A priest calls out to her—

лікар, будь ласка—

Doctor, please—

Katya kills the cigarette under her boot and goes.

All empires fall. First the Mongols destroyed parts of the church. Then the Soviets. Then it was rebuilt. Gold and blue, the church is grotesquely beautiful. It looks like Byzantium. Byzantium: the word so full of promise. The new Rome. She has seen pictures of the Sistine Chapel and it must be some­thing like this. Here, there are paintings on the walls, the ceiling, the columns. Bright sashes and wings on cherubs, gowns and crowns decorating saints. All looking, seeing. Vigilance. She felt they could see every part of her. All that raw ache.

From "I Will Die In a Foreign Land" by Kalani Pickhart. Copyright © 2022 by Kalani Pickhart. Excerpted by permission of Two Dollar Radio. All rights reserved.

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