“This comedy of errors is a page-turner, where a mail-order bride service, enough love triangles to boggle the mind, a stolen Egon Schiele painting, and a devastating fire lead the worlds of Santa Barbara and Chișinău to collide.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
An exhilaratingly comical, crosscultural debut novel, The Wife Who Wasn’t brings together an eccentric community from the hills of Santa Barbara, California, and a family of Russians from Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. It starts in the late 1990s, after the fall of communism, and has at its center the mail-order marriage between a California man (Sammy) and a Russian woman (Tania) who comes to America, which engenders a series of hilarious cultural misunderstandings.
The novel’s four parts take place alternately in California and Moldova, and comprise short chapters whose point of view moves seamlessly between that of the omniscient narrator and that of various characters. Delivered in arresting prose, both realities—late 90s, bohemian/hipster California and postcommunist Moldova—thus come together from opposite points of view.
Above all, this novel is a comedy of manners that depicts the cultural (and personality) clash between Tania and Sammy, Anna (Sammy’s teenage daughter) and Irina, and Bill (Sammy’s neighbor) and Serioja (Tania’s brother). It is also a comedy of errors in the tradition of playful, multiple love triangles. The novel reaches a shocking climax involving a stolen Egon Schiele painting and alluding to the real history of East Mountain Drive, whose bohemian community was destroyed in the 2008 “Tea Fire.”
A literary tour de force and a rollicking satire of both suburban America and urban Eastern Europe, is a must for fans of Gary Schteyngart (The Russian Debutante's Handbook), Keith Gessen (A Terrible Country), Ludmila Ulitskaya (), and Lara Vapnyar (Divide Me By Zero).
Alta Ifland was born in Romania, took part in the overthrow of Romania’s communist dictatorship, and emigrated to the United States in 1991. Her books include The Wife Who Wasn’t (New Europe Books), Elegy for a Fabulous World (2010 finalist for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction), and Death-in-a-Box (2011 Subito Press Fiction Prize). After many years in California, she lives currently in France.
<p>“This comedy of errors is a page-turner, where a mail-order bride service, enough love triangles to boggle the mind, a stolen Egon Schiele painting, and a devastating fire lead the worlds of Santa Barbara and Chișinău to collide.”</p><p><b><i>—Los Angeles Review of Books</b><i/i></p>