In Calling Ukraine, Johannes Lichtman’s debut novel, we follow the journey of an American abroad seeking to discover himself in Ukraine. The narrator, fresh off a breakup and the death of his father, has landed a job in a call center for an Airbnb-like start-up in the city of Lutsk. Intertwined with the narrator’s story of self-discovery is Lichtman’s depiction of the cultural clash between Ukrainian and American culture, and the satirical exploration of global capitalism’s influence in Ukraine.
The novel follows the hero, a recovering journalist, as he navigates both the complexities and the banalities of life in a foreign country. Lichtman adeptly navigates the pitfalls of writing about a foreign culture without falling into the trap of presenting a superficial, exoticized rendering of a foreign culture. His light touch is on full display as we witness Ukrainian customer service representatives trying to master the art of American small talk, and readers are reminded of the humor and wit that persists in Ukrainian culture despite its current political climate. Interspersed in the story are brief reflections on Ukrainian history and politics, as well as the narrator’s attempts to make sense of the world around him through learning a new language.
Though much of the plot revolves around the narrator’s journey, Calling Ukraine is not simply the story of one man’s self-discovery. Lichtman has crafted a thoughtful and charming story that shines a light on both the positive and negative aspects of global capitalism in the Ukrainian context. In particular, the novel serves as a reminder of the influence of Western companies and the power of language, and how sometimes the many things that bring us together are the same things that can sometimes drive us apart.
Marysue Rucci Books is the publisher of Calling Ukraine. Founded in 2020, the company is dedicated to embracing a diverse range of unique voices, reflecting and celebrating the richness of human experience across genres, countries, and regions. They have committed to providing editorial support, marketing opportunities, and publicity tools to help foster creative expression, honest conversation, and exceptional storytelling.
Johannes Lichtman is the Swedish-American author of Calling Ukraine and its predecessor, Such Good Work. Both novels have been well-received by readers, and together they reflect Lichtman’s commitment to defamiliarizing cultural practices and exploring the complexity of being an outsider in a foreign nation. For Lichtman, writing is a tool for understanding the intricacies of different cultures and finding one’s self-identity; a journey he clearly undertook in writing Calling Ukraine.