Thursday, February 5, 2015

Guest Post from Marina Julia Neary, Author of Saved by the Bang

Please join me in welcoming author Marina Julia Neary to Let Them Read Books! You may remember my Q&A with Marina from last year when she was touring the blogosphere with her historical fiction novel, Never Be At Peace. Now she's back with a brand new book, Saved by the Bang, a blend of humor, tragedy, and romance in Cold War-era Russia. She's here today to talk about the inspiration for this novel and the misconceptions that still exist about this time period. Without further ado, here she is!

Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy
by Marina Julia Neary

Taking a break from Dublin slums ...

For years my readers, friends and fellow-authors have been nagging and bullying me to write something autobiographical. So finally I broke down and gave them what they wanted. Most of my work deals with the Anglo-Irish conflict. I've written a series of novels revolving around the Easter Rising of 1916. Even though I'm not Irish by blood, I am an avid scholar of early 20th century Irish history. The subject of national identity happens to be very dear to me. That's what I gravitate towards naturally. That subject springs up in all my novels, whether it's the Irish fighting to break away from England, or Belarusians /Lithuanians trying to detach from Stepmother Russia. Saved by the Bang is set in the picturesque radioactive swamps of Central Europe, so far from the City Hall of Dublin, but it's not that different from my previous novels. You still get smoke. It's not pouring from the General Post Office in Dublin but rather from the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. You still get the same offensive gallows humor that you've come to expect from my works -- only taken a few notches up.

There are still so many myths and misconceptions about that era, namely the tail end of the Cold War. It's horrifying how many people derive their ideas about life in the Soviet Union from James Bond movies. Crushingly disappointing as it sounds, we do not have bears walking on the streets, drinking vodka. I anglicized certain names and translated certain slag expressions and colloquialisms into English. The characters are based on real people, so I didn't need to exert my creative streak too much in that regard.

Laughter through tears...

My detractors have called me insensitive and callous for my campy, flippant depiction of nuclear disaster, rape, abortion, ethnic intolerance, cancer and birth defects. If you are a fan of Nicholas Sparks and his rosy alternate universes where every puppy gets a home in the end, then this book is not for you. The truth is, there is always room for ha-has amidst the worst of boo-boos. The grotesque and the sublime walk hand in hand. The line between the two is very thin and non-existent. The same person can commit acts of pettiness and generosity.

NOT a mouthpiece for the people

There is something I want to set straight: I am NOT an advocate or a champion for any country or ethnic group. My biological father, embodied in the character of Joseph Olenski, was a rampant anti-Russian activist and defender of the smaller adjacent nations. I didn't follow in Daddy's footsteps. Just because I'm trying to bust a few myths, it doesn't mean that I'm raising any sort of awareness. I don't judge -- I ridicule. My experiences, my memories are highly subjective. They are not exactly salt of the earth. I'm illuminating just one tiny piece in the gargantuan mosaic. The characters featured in the novel belong to what was called artistic intelligentsia. They lived, loved and rivaled in their own bubble and had little interaction with the rest of the world. But here's the kicker: radiation doesn't care if you are a music professor or a janitor.

Welcome to 1980s Belarus, where Polish denim is the currency, “kike” is a pedestrian endearment, and second trimester abortion can be procured for a box of chocolates. Antonia Olenski, PhD, a catty half-Jewish pianist and leading cock tease of the Gomel Music Academy, wavers between her flamboyant composer husband Joseph and a chivalrous tenor Nicholas. The Chernobyl disaster breaks up the love triangle, forcing Antonia into evacuation in the cumbersome company of her ugly eight-year old daughter Maryana. After a summer of cruising through Crimean sanatoriums and flirting with Afghan veterans, Antonia starts pining for the intrigues and scandals of the Academy. When the queen of cats finally returns home, she finds that another woman is wearing her crown. In the afterglow of nuclear fallout, artistic, ethnic and sexual rivalries emerge. How far will Antonia go to reclaim her throne?

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