I’d been missing Eve Koguce’s beautiful writing, compelling characters, and wondrous storytelling, with the completion of her “Neglected Merge” dystopian-fantasy-romance series.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long for a new book – and more of the above – by this author, though it was a departure from the pure fantastical, into the magical realism stream, with Koguce’s latest novel, the coming-of-age story, “Finding Your Way”, set in the first decade of the 21st century.
Set in what I understand to be one of the world’s most picturesque, enticing, and desirable countries – Latvia – “Finding Your Way” introduces us to Zanda Blumfelde, a young Latvian who is at a crossroads in her life.
About to embark on her university education, a tumultuous yet exciting summer stretches before Zanda, filled with interesting new friends, the allure of the cosmopolitan city of Riga, the pull of the stunning Latvian countryside, the gorgeous beaches, the summer festivals, and an attractive, kind, loyal, and intelligent new boyfriend, Aaron.
Aaron seems like a great catch, the son of academics, well-off financially, but there’s one big snag: Aaron is Russian. Latvians and Russians are inextricably intertwined over centuries that have included various times of Russian rule. But when the action of “Finding Your Way” unfolds, Latvian has already gained independence from the then-Soviet Union for almost two decades, and has been a member of NATO for several years.
Despite the shared heritage, and close proximity, a certain general measure of suspicion and mistrust, and discrimination against one another, exists between Latvians and Russians (about a quarter of the Latvian population), even though many work together, are friends, or intermarried and have children together, or have close relatives of either country.
This makes the prospect for Zanda and Aaron’s relationship succeeding more difficult.
Moreover, Zanda is a bright, capable, strong-willed young woman who is fiercely proud of, and attached to her country, and her heart tells her she’ll be happiest being in Latvia, becoming a professional or some sort, rather than trying her fortunes abroad, like many of her friends, and even her brother have elected to do.
But which Latvia should Zanda cleave to? The dazzling capital of Riga, where she envisions herself working in a successful office job, or elsewhere?
For, over the years, family visits to her witty and plucky grandmother in the enchanting village of Witch’s Pond, have always placed Zanda in touch with the side of her that is captivated by the pastoral and rustic.
Yet that summer between high school and university, Zanda encounters a handsome, enigmatic, and captivating young man, Viestards, whose lands are threatened by the greedy and unscrupulous forces who covet them. She is drawn to Viestards, but what about Aaron?
And what about the life Zanda thinks she wants, and deserves?
“Finding Your Way” is a book, foremost about choices, and the decisions one makes that shapes their future. Will Zanda be able to make the right choices, while negotiating the challenges and positives of her culture, upbringing, and heritage, while forging a path that is true to what she holds dearest?
Once more, Koguce has excelled in creating characters that the reader can’t help being drawn to, that are extremely well-fleshed out. The protagonist is complex, and the situation around her is complicated too, but it brings out the best of her innate abilities, values, and spirituality.
There were many moments I was frustrated with her, moments I cheered for her, but ultimately because Koguce writes her so well, from all the angles – flaws, blemishes, and positive aspects – I UNDERSTOOD her.
Zanda has been sheltered, and is somewhat innocent and naive in many ways, in her upbringing, and has had to play dutiful daughter to her parents – whose marriage seems imbalanced, with her somewhat distant mother carrying most of the burdens, emotional, financial, and otherwise, where her father seems to merely ‘exist’.
Her brother has succumbed to the lure of migration abroad, for the promise of stable if unexciting employment, and scorns Zanda for being resolved to make a life in Latvia. Zanda bears the burden of varying expectations from her family with grace, fortitude, and common sense, while striving for her own future, which is very admirable.
With the charming romance dilemma of the book, Zanda must decide not only what but WHO she wants. Both Viestards and Aaron are good people, smart, and offer different things to Zanda that she would want in a partner. But she can’t have both…she must choose.
The secondary characters are also phenomenal. The obstinate but endearing Viestards, and his courage in the face of trying to preserve his sustenance, the pleasant and affable Aaron, still haunted by a previous relationship, cautiously developing something with Zanda, the alluring but somewhat mercenary and bewildering Gerda, the long-suffering but stoic Lauma who is the glue holding the family in place, all these and more make up a great auxiliary character group for the novel.
I must add that the bewitching country of Latvia is like another character in the book. I have never been to Latvia, but Koguce swept me away with her evocative writing to this place of white sand beaches, lush forests, beautiful fauna, and stunning cultural metropolis of Riga. Koguce is Latvian, and she has enthralled me, writing about her homeland through Zanda’s eyes, and made me long to visit Latvia one day.
Koguce tackles some fascinating themes in “Finding Your Way”. Dating outside of one’s culture, staying and rooting oneself in one’s home or spreading one’s wings abroad, what it means to be an adult, what it means to be a loyal friend or partner, rigidly adhering to and valuing tradition or being more progressive while still maintaining ties with one’s heritage, continuing to persevere when all seems hopeless – these are some of the compelling themes explored in the novel.
I loved the element of mysticism, linked to the agrestic Witch’s Pond, whose very name screams supernatural. Do magical creatures like mermaids, ghosts, and fairies exist? And can they only be seen, when one is bonded with nature, and the more sylvan domains of places like Witch’s Pond? And what do they want with humans?
Koguce’s prose is one of the things I missed most about reading her books. It is elevated, with a formal, lyrical, poetic element that bespeaks to the somewhat fairy-tale moments of the books so well, in addition to the starkly real and slightly dark aspects. It is beautiful writing, that some may take a few pages to get accustomed to, but once you do, I believe you’ll find it as lovely as I do.
Koguce captures so expertly, all the uncertainty, angst, and glory of being young, in love, conflicted, and having your life ahead of you, and not knowing quite what to do with it, with competing opinions of elders and contemporaries playing a part in your decision-making.
The author also writes a wonderful love story, combined with some fantastical elements, a bit of thriller-mystery, with some sinister undertones, along with heart-warming family ties, some political undertones about prevailing attitudes and values of Latvia of the time period, and a lot of hope and optimism.
“Finding Your Way” is a rare novel that will transport you to a wondrous country you might not have been to before, written from a fascinating perspective, with awesome characters, elegant prose, and delightful story of a girl entering womanhood, with all its adult freedom and responsibilities. I was happy to take part in Zanda’s journey.
A glowing five stars for this marvellous book!