Hello loves and welcome to my Blog Tour Stop for Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina hosted by TLC Book Tours. I have an excerpt from the book and a short author interview to share with you. Hope you enjoy reading!!!
Published: June 11, 2019
Publisher: Young Europe Books
Genre(s): Young Adult, Historial Fiction
Format: Paperback 304 pages
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia–her life’s dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country’s and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away–her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn’t always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her “rescuer” at a construction site she calls “castle.” So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?
In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be “sisters” and the People brothers,” what does one’s nationality have to do with anything?
All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?
What was your inspiration for Castle of Concrete?
A half-Russian half-Jew coming on age in Russia during the early 90s, I might as well admit that I have much in common with my protagonist Sonya. Like Sonya, I played the piano, hung out on construction sites and dreamed of “shining.” Like her, I had to figure out what being Jewish actually meant. But one incident comes to mind as a particular spark for this story. At age 13, I was out on a date with a boy on whom I had a huge crush. He was giving me a ride on his bicycle, when a passerby splashed us with mud. My “knight in shining armor” cursed the stranger out using an anti-Semitic slur that turned my insides solid. But I didn’t dare stop him, get off the bike and confront him. I didn’t explain to him who I was, and how that word made me feel. Instead, I kept riding that bicycle, and worse, I dated him for a while longer. I never found out if he knew I was Jewish, if he was actually an anti-Semite, or if it was just a meaningless curse word he’d overheard. But these questions and emotions never really left me, until they became this book.
Describe this book in 3 words.
Romance — or not?
Which authors have inspired your writing?
Ray Bradbury, Hans Christian Andersen and Alexandre Dumas. Looking at the premise of Castle of Concrete, you might wonder, how? The story of a perestroika-era Jewish girl falling in love with a boy who may be anti-Semitic is neither science fiction, nor a fairy tale and it’s not set in 18th century France, either. But the book does pay tribute to Bradbury, Dumas and fairy tales, because they helped me become the writer I am. They gave my writing big emotions, imagination and strangeness. I know I will carry those through every project I will ever write.
Favorite snack while writing?
I don’t usually eat while writing. I need my fingers to tap on the keyboard keys! But sometimes, early in the morning, I’ll have coffee by my side just to get me going! And if I need a break, nothing is better than a quick, refreshing clementine!
What is your favorite part about being an author/writer?
So many aspects of being an author are exciting. Opening up that box for the first time! Thanking your loved ones! The reviews! Strangers reading your book and thinking about the words you dreamed up! Doing talks for high school students! Signing my books for the students that I teach! But despite all that, I think my favorite part of being an author is still the actual writing. When characters become real. When a song on the radio connects with some aspect of the story and fuels an idea. When you lose yourself in the writing and let the story flow. When you look back at what you’ve got, and you find yourself surprised, in a good way. That doesn’t happen all the time. But when it does… that’s what we writers live for.
If you could have any other job/profession other than being a writer, what would it be?
Well, actually, I do have another job: I am a teacher! And though I hope to always, always write, being with kids each day, surrounded by their goofy wisdom, and helping them see their own brilliance, is also my favorite!
Bus number 346 shakes our bones as it drives us along a patchy road. The air inside is nothing but fumes and breath. Space, too, is in short supply, a rare commodity like boots, refrigerators, bread, sausage, or just about anything. But Ruslan’s hand sliding down the sweaty railing and landing on mine at each traffic-light jolt more than compensates for these inconveniences of life.
I’ve never been on a date before.
A true one. The kind they write in books about.
Fellow passengers push their weight onto me. They shovetheir thick shoulders into my nose. I grin through their wrinkled faces. They look at my smile as though I’m touched, like my head has departed. Maybe I wouldn’t be smiling, either, if, like them, I was on my way to a hunt for fresh meat and socks in the capital, net sack at the ready.
In the inside pocket of my new pink leather jacket is a pair of second-row Moscow Concert Hall tickets. And my Jewish Star. I stuck it in there this morning, for, I don’t know, luck. For courage. Maybe I’ll show it to him today.
Not now, of course. Not in this angry crowd.
“How was, you know?” I wink at him, through all those people. “The secret thing?”
His hand stays on mine. His mouth moves to my ear. “It was good,” he whispers, his hot breath tickling me.
“Will there be more?”
He nods. His thin smile. How I’ve missed it.
“Maybe next time, you’ll take me?”
Demonstrations. That’s the best place to be in Moscow. Better than a concert hall. Better than the McDonald’s they have just built in the city center, where Ruslan promised to take me today, before my father’s show.
The growing crowd reshuffles yet again at the next stop. Hmph, a puff of salty-sour air flies toward me in a foul-smelling snort. It comes from an odd-faced man with pockmarked cheeks, his eyes glazed over. Even when the bus slows, the man can’t stand straight.
“What you gaping at?” he asks me, roughly.
Now I stare, transfixed, at the strange man’s yellow teeth. Ruslan tries to pulls me closer. But when the bus jumps over a pothole, the man leans into my face again. “Nice jacket,” he says.
“Just don’t look at him,” Ruslan hisses into my ear.
I turn my head away, and face instead a cranky-looking old man in a checkered cap, muttering, “Let me through! I’m an invalid! I’m a veteran!”
The man’s voice rises over the noisy shaking of the bus, about how he fought the Germans, got a bullet in his calf, and deserved a seat. The sour-smelling barely-standing drunk beside me tries to latch onto the sleeve of my jacket, but misses.
Arguments rise up slowly, thickening like the dust pouring out of the back of the bus, then settling over us like the soot covering the windows.
“What, you think she doesn’t deserve a seat?” A younger man with a thoughtful face points at a harried-looking woman with an empty net sack, whose shawl is falling off her shoulder. “She works all day, probably has a child to feed, no?”
“We deserve one, too, as we’ll be standing in line for McDonald’s for two hours at least, right?” I ask Ruslan cheerfully, earning scowls from all sides for us both.
“The country upside-down . . .” the veteran mutters, shaking his finger at me.
“McDonald’s . . . isn’t that nice?” the drunk echoes him.
“Hard-working . . . people . . . can’t find underwear in a store—not a sausage in a refrigerator . . .” His wavering voice grows. “. . . while some teenage Jid struts around in a pink leather jacket and stuffs herself at a McDonald’s restaurant.”
I clutch the railing, gritting my teeth hard. I don’t hear the rest of his nonsense, not after that word—not again—trailing me like a cursed shadow.
Heat covers my face. When I look at Ruslan’s, for a second I don’t recognize him. His eyes grow hard, as though something just closed within him.
“What did you just say to my girl, dumb asshole?” Ruslan wheezes.
“Ooooh, you love your little jid-ovochka, eh?”
Murmurs rise all around us. Ruslan gives the drunk a shove on the chest. The crowd behind the drunk shifts, and he staggers backward.
“What’s this country coming to?” the checkered-cap veteran says. He raises his index finger in the air and points it at me, at Ruslan, at the drunk, who is scrambling back up again.
“It’s the Jidy, I tell you,” the drunk slurs.
“I said, shut it, you fucking idiot!” His face completely unrecognizable now, Ruslan rushes headfirst at the drunk, though several pairs of arms restrain him. My heart hammering, I press against him. The young man with the nice face appears before us, standing tall, separating us from the drunk and the veteran, both.
“Calm down, comrades,” he says evenly.
Ruslan holds me under the arms like I am some kind of a doll, his hands so close to my chest on either side of me. I don’t move them aside. His breathing slows. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, myshka,” he whispers. Whom he is trying to soothe, himself or me, I do not know. “Sh-sh-sh,” he breathes into my ear, rocking me a little. “Don’t you mind him. I bet he’s on drugs. I bet he was hallucinating.”
And yet, somehow, the drunk saw right through me, Ruslan.
The doors of the bus jerk open, letting in fresh diesel-filled air. More people pile in at each stop, pile on top of me. They thaw the early autumn chill off each other’s bodies, breathing, coughing, sweating, smelling of smoke, trying to separate me from Ruslan in their fierce search for a better spot. But he keeps his hands on my waist, or at least I hope they’re his, holding me tight, saving me from the shifting crowd, shielding me from a drunk who blames everything on Jews. I tremble in his arms, less now from fear and more from the excitement of being his myshka. I am his girl, he said so. He said so.
When she was a child, Katia Raina played at construction sites and believed in magic mirrors. She emigrated from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic.
Find out more about Katia at her website, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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