Recommended Reading: Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich

photo 1 (21)I’ve read a grand total of three graphic novels (including Maus I and II and Persepolis 1 and 2), but it seems to me that there’s something about the medium that lends itself to personal histories.

Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel* is no exception. A mordantly funny look at love, online dating, divorce, and growing up, this is tragicomedy at its best. The tone is set on page three: “My sexual awakening was entirely the fault of the U.S. State Department.”

On a book tour in St. Petersburg, Lena reconnects with an old flame, and wonders whether they should try to work things out. Twice divorced, with two children, Lena still isn’t as experienced as she’d like to be in matters of love and sex, and so she decides to try online dating, with hilarious results. The heartbreak comes when she falls for a man offline.

The account of Lena’s dating escapades is peppered with detours into her past, and these were the most interesting segments of the novel, though often far from funny. Lena talks about growing up in the USSR as it teetered on the brink of toppling, and then recounts what it was like to live as a recent immigrant in Arizona in the early 1990s.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is a fast read, and refreshing in both its format and its honesty about its heroine’s many foibles and struggles. If you like memoir-like fiction and are looking for a book that stands out from the crowd — and if you like a good Chekhov reference — Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel is for you.

What’s your favorite graphic novel? Which one do you think I should try next?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.