“Book Review: Bottled Goods”
Reviewed by Rosa Kumar
A delicious, magical little treat
Bake a strawberry sponge cake, refresh your lipstick, and have your phones tapped by the Soviet Romanian Secret Service. Welcome to a normal Tuesday for dutiful daughter and dedicated schoolteacher Alina.
Bottled Goods is a powerful, sophisticated, and emotional delve into Soviet-era Romania through the eyes and heart of a young woman. This novella from Sophie van Llewyn is an exciting plot-driven read that offers a thoughtful, introspective look into a woman reaching maturity under a government that isn’t built for girls who ask questions.
The novella begins with a young Alina growing up in Soviet Romania under two very different influences: her mom, a proud Comrade and staunch supporter of Communist-life, and her aunt who takes her to run illegal old-world missions that involve fairies and naked rain dances.
“My teeth chatter all the way to the monastery, the better part of an hour. Religion is not quite forbidden, but it’s something that you don’t practice in public, nor speak of. Just like sex.”
As Alina grows up and gets married, her life feels great for a while. She takes the government for what it is, but her time is focused on pleasing her mom, her husband, and baking a few weekly treats. Until her brother-in-law defects to the West without warning anyone.
Circumstances change very quickly and very badly for Alina and her husband; their careers come to a screeching stop, their social lives plummet, and their relationship becomes an unbearable weight on Alina. Her meddling mother does nothing to support her, and thwarts all of Alina’s plans to create a better life for her and her husband. Desperate for any help, Alina goes to her aunt for folk-world advice, hoping that there is still some magic left in the enchanted woods of Romania.
Bottled Goods manages to be a serious, reflective novella while still maintaining the humor and optimism of youth. Alina is only in her twenties for the most significant part of the story, and all she really wants are a pair of Levy’s jeans and for the Secret Service to maybe not drag her blindfolded to Headquarters for questioning.
“Aline prepares fried chicken thighs with mashed potatoes. She places her mother’s bottle on the table so she can watch her eat. Her mother says, ‘I hope a chicken bone catches in your throat.”
Bottled Goods is a beautiful novella that fans of Angela Carter would likely devour. Alina is a character worth getting to know, and even though it only takes a few hours to read, it leaves an impression that lasts much longer.
Publisher: Fairlight Books
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