Fourteen-year old Irina Kotova’s comfortable life as a promising violinist collapses in sync with the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Her father is killed in a bar fight and her ailing mother is hauled off to jail without explanation. Now considered an orphan, Irina is forced to live in a state-run boarding school—the place where Russia’s throwaway kids are abandoned and forgotten.
SOMETIMES PAIN OPENS THE SOUL …
Fourteen-year old Irina Kotova’s comfortable life as a promising violinist collapses in sync with the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Her father is killed in a bar fight and her ailing mother is hauled off to jail without explanation. Now considered an orphan, Irina is forced to live in a state-run boarding school—the place where Russia’s throwaway kids are abandoned and forgotten. Overweight and insecure, Irina is constantly tormented by Vadim Solokov, a mean-spirited hooligan who takes great pleasure in reminding her that nobody cares about them. Irina is convinced he is right, and the not-so-mysterious theft of her precious violin seals her resolve to escape the school or die trying. Except for the memory of the foreigner with the unusual shining eyes who visits the boarding school, and the kind attention of Anastasia, the translator, Irina’s self-destructive course would succeed unhindered. Will she find a place to truly belong before bitterness destroys all her dreams?
“Her Shining Eyes” was birthed during a Fiction Mentoring class led by Bill Myer at Mount Hermon in 2010. Bill declared my fledgling scene “brilliant” and planted a seed of hope that someday I would be a novelist. Six years later, I finally typed “The End.” Yep, six years. That little seed needed time to mature—and a lot of material to create the story that finally emerged from that initial scene (the one I’m giving away as a sneak preview for those who sign up to receive my newsletter).
During my annual mission trips to Samara, the city where “Her Shining Eyes” takes place, I interviewed dozens of people—from former drug addicts and prostitutes to pastors, from those who were teenagers in the 1990s to those who sacrificed everything just to survive, from those who refused to talk about those difficult times to those who bared their souls.
I traveled there in every season—because Russian weather is a like a character—and I wanted to experience it personally. I stood for three-hour Orthodox services and peeled potatoes with rehabilitants in recovery. I traveled down the Volga and on crowded trams. I ate borsch and pelmini with country sour cream (not a sacrifice, except to my waistline.) So from all of this and more, the story emerged—an authentic story that reflects a world most Americans cannot imagine, set in a country that aches with the angst of its muddled past and mystifying cultural richness.
Irina and Vadim come of age while their new nation claws its way back to stability and re-embraces its Christian roots. And the soul searching I had to do during those six years brought me the inspiration and determination (and belief) to tell a story that needed to be told. I suppose, then, that the novel includes some of my story as well.
WHAT MY BETA READERS ARE SAYING:
Your writing abilities transcended the average. You remain only one of four writers I’ve worked in nine years whose words displayed the rhythm of God. I still talk about it with other editors (not mentioning your name). But once the book is published, I’d love to tell others about the book.
I consider it an honor to read this book. It is more than mere fiction. It is true art. It is so far above all other mass market books out there. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this.
— Jeanne Marie Leach, writing coach, editor, mentor
I just finished reading the book…wow It is written with such wonderful description and emotion. I can tell that you used your visits for the inspiration and it might even be a story of someone’s real life…maybe. It made me laugh—the line about apathy rising to the height of sputnik’s orbit almost jiggled me off my chair. And the touching scenes that had me crying like a baby were very tender. It made me want to go out and buy a scarf with fringe on it and ride a bus…among other things. I even made myself a cup of tea. Thank you for sharing it with me. I feel very honored. God Bless You!
— Pati Gordon, Creston, CA
Without even going to Russia, I am there, and I don’t want it to end. The story brought tears to my eyes, and I so love that fact that I am privy to some of the “behind the scenes” from the vantage point of where the story is inspired. I love love love that changed lives are being seen, the use of the Russian words, and their customs and traditions. I kept thinking of what you’ve seen over there and how you are describing real scenery so well. A huge thumbs up, Jeanette. You are well on your way to being an author that keeps the pages turning! Bravo!
— Nanci Clifford, Paso Robles, CA