cover image Kuraj


Silvia Di Natale, , trans. from the Italian by Carol O'Sullivan and Martin Thom. . Bloomsbury, $15.95 (433pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-220-7

Based on a true story, Di Natale's expansive debut chronicles the journey of Naja, a Mongol girl taken from the Central Asian steppes to Cologne, Germany, during WWII. This absorbing if not entirely coherent novel encompasses the far-flung war story that precedes the young heroine's relocation, the details of her alienation in Europe and the cultural history of her nomadic people. When her birth father, Ul'an, a Tunshan khan, joins the Germans in protest of Stalin's collectivization, he meets Lt. Günther Berger, with whom he lays siege to Stalingrad as part of the Turkestan battalion. After the Russians capture and imprison the two men, they escape and return to the steppes, only for Ul'an to die. At Ul'an's behest, Günther adopts the 10-year-old Naja, and with his wife, Siglinde, raises her in his bourgeois German postwar household. As the novel—titled after Naja's native word for tumbleweed—shifts points of view, time and place, it follows her to middle age, when she comes to familial terms with her adoptive parents and her past. The plot line is original and the writing lyrical, but the number of shifts involved in Naja's journey back to her own identity will leave less diligent readers behind. (Jan.)