The altar girl - by Orest Stelmach
Posted on August 26th, 2016
This thriller by Orest Stelmach brings us in the journey of Nadia, a Ukrainian immigrant descendant who lives in New York but grew up not too far in Hartford, Connecticut in a Ukrainian immigrant neighborhood. The book sets the tone in the first few chapters quite excitingly.
The author sets the action early in chapters that alternate between present Nadia, our hero, dealing with her present and past Nadia dealing with a childhood traumatic experience.
Presently, Nadia has a weird feeling that her godfather’s death has not been an accident despite the claims. On her way back from his funeral she cannot but feel uneasy. As she reaches her neighborhood in New York, she is abducted by an old Ukrainian acquaintance who has the reputation of being a hitman. That surely doesn’t help and brings Nadia back to her memories of the survival tests described in the following chapter.
When she was almost 12 years old, her father and brother took Nadia to a forest not too far from their house and left her there with a backpack of supplies to pass the survival test. A Ukrainian rite of passage in which the child has to survive on their own in a forest for 3 nights. Young Nadia is terrified of the idea of being in the forest by herself but even more terrified of disappointing her father. She has been training for it for years and feels prepared but the idea of being alone without her brother Marko is scary nonetheless.
The story evolves to show us a hero that has handled a pretty hard life but managed to come on top even if it meant losing touch with a lot of people she cared about. Her desire to look for answers about her grandfather, the knowledge that she lived through her survival test but the questions around how she managed and, overall, a story about Ukrainian immigration and integration provides a good thriller with a very strong lead character and plenty of plot twists as we learn more about Nadia and her family and community.
A good book for a weekend of intense reading or a week or two of commute reading. Probably not one I would bother re-reading or keep following (the author intends to continue the series).