The Making of June
Starred KIRKUS Review
A first novel, based on Ward’s experience living in the Balkans during the upheavals of the late 1990s, combines two love stories: an American falls in love with a Bulgarian woman, while his wife falls in love with Bulgaria itself.
June and Ethan Carver come from Los Angeles to Sofia so that Ethan can complete his doctoral thesis. Initially, 30-year-old June hates and resents the unsophisticated, uncomfortable world she’s landed in and sends smart-aleck e-mails to friends and family. But her secret guilt over a brief affair back in California pushes her to stay in Sofia for Ethan’s sake. Meanwhile, Ethan meets Nevena, a Bulgarian woman working as a maid for June’s American friend Roxanne. When June spills the beans about her indiscretion, Ethan’s sense of betrayal sends him into Nevena’s arms. Nevena, however, is not your standard issue “other woman.” A Muslim, she has survived rape and the murder of her parents’ by Bulgarian nationalists. Despite snags caused by cultural misunderstandings, Ethan and Nevena’s romance deepens. With her, Ethan becomes the loving, generous man he’s unable to be with June, who, with her boundless capacity for self-destructiveness, falls into an affair with a local mafioso named Chavdar. The e-mails to and from America offer up a counterpoint to the charged energy of the growing political and economic unrest that have swept up June and Ethan. June’s interest in gossip from home fades as she becomes involved in the struggles of the local Bulgarians she’s befriended, particularly her aging language tutor. While an enlightened June tries to extricate herself from the increasingly dangerous liaison with Chavdar, whose acts of kindness come with a high price, Nevena’s sense of responsibility to her younger sister draws her toward dangerous dealings with Chavdar’s henchmen.
A world and time brought vividly to life, and romantic to boot. Ward does a masterful job of delineating political complexities while creating characters painfully real in their imperfections and humanity.
When June Carver made the choice to follow her husband Ethan from their sunny beachside home in Santa Monica to the Balkans, she had not realized that Bulgaria meant a one-room studio in a concrete housing block with no hot water. She'd had no idea that her real journey would be from dutiful wife to Mafia mistress, film exec to Third World journalist, sheltered and privileged American to weathered and worried global citizen. In the gray and desolate city of Sofia, she faces (with the help of many bottles of rakia) hitting the big 30, resurrecting her rocky marriage and assimilating in a post-Communist country rife with ethnic conflict and revolution just around the corner. This might be the hardest thing she has ever had to do, June thinks, until Ethan leaves her for a local girl with a tragic past and she has to do it all alone.
June spent the first thirty years of her life pursuing the "American Dream"- an image of perfection that society and her family and friends led her to believe in with all her heart. It looked as if she had succeeded. Put-together and pretty, she was a rising star in her career and seemed to have a happy marriage.
Away from America for the first time, June quickly learns that appearances can be deceiving. There is actually a heart-breaking beauty to the stark Balkans and her ideal marriage is really teetering on the brink of total collapse. When Ethan leaves, she is forced to stand on her own or admit defeat. Instead of returning to the blue sky and safety of Los Angeles, June vows to go it alone in the darkest corner of Europe. She learns the language, takes a job as a journalist and allows herself to be seduced by a
Mafia kingpin as gorgeous as he is dangerous. She self medicates her way from the streets of Istanbul to the Greek Islands and back, hoping to find a reason to go on in the wake of what her family deems a domestic failure.
Unexpectedly, June not only continues-she perseveres. Surviving her darkest hour, she re-evaluates her role in the world and resolves to make it a more meaningful one. While it means giving up Starbucks, yoga classes, sushi, satellite television and just a little bit of her sanity, June remains in the Balkans, convinced for the first time that she can make a difference-in her own life and in the lives of others.