While working for a British time share company catering to the new Russian mafia, Natalia connects with a fellow Russian woman who publishes profiles in a mail-order bride catalog. Natalia is bored with Russia and feels that she must escape the poverty and endless supply of cheating, alcoholic men whose only positive attribute is surviving their tour of duty in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, she immediately attracts the interest of Carlos, an "entrepreneurial" American looking for a wife to add a woman's touch to his newly purchased home.
Natalia falls hook, line and sinker for Carlos' charm. After numerous phone calls and video messages, Carlos comes to Russia to marry her. He arrives presenting a large diamond engagement ring. Despite occasional flashes of his temper and her family's lukewarm acceptance, Natalia marries Carlos.
The fairy tale abruptly ends when she arrives in America. Carlos does not have his own house. Instead, he is the definition of a "mama's boy" still living with his parents and sister. The newlyweds take up residence in the basement. Natalia is distraught learning that she can go nowhere without supervision and her phone calls home are limited to a few words.
The main purpose of the marriage for Carlos is Natalia's persona as a white woman. He uses her identity to apply for loans backed by the endorsement of her signature given under duress. Setting up a counterfeit workshop in the midst of their home, Carlos' main employment is identity theft initially funded by his wife's good name.
The secondary aspect of the nuptials is providing his mother with a grandchild. Carlos gets his wish when he impregnates Natalia practically upon her arrival. He constantly threatens her that if she ever tried to leave him, he would make sure that she would never see their child again. For a woman in a strange country living with foreign customs, Carlos holds the trump card. He knows he has her right where he wants her.
To make matters worse, Carlos takes a mistress who inserts herself into their lives acting as if she is a part of the family. At her wits end, Natalia finally is able to make a friend with her neighbor, Maryanne. The older woman provides Natalia with a much-needed source of support.
Things take a turn when detectives arrive at the door when Natalia is home alone. She takes a leap of faith and lets them in. Natalia through tears tells them her sad tale. They are the only Americans she informs about her plight besides Maryanne. One detective, Greg, takes an interest in her and urges her to leave Carlos. He assures her that she will be protected.
With Maryanne's urging, she takes the risk and leaves the house along with her son. They make their way first to a safe house for battered women, then to a Russian friend's house in Georgia and finally back to Russia. Reunited with her family, Natalia begins to feel an unexpected longing for the United States. She decides to return partly to make a fresh start and partly to testify in Carlos' upcoming trial. The door is left open for part two of this real life drama.
Repina really gives the reader a look at what it was like being 20-years-old living in mid-1990s Russia. What qualified as her only excitement was her sister sewing an outfit copied from a fashion magazine. Employment was sporadic. The building of a Christian Orthodox church was a jolt for a girl brought up under God-less Communism. The wealth of the "New Russians" was a slap in the face for those who chose to earn an honest living. America was seen as a Mecca constantly calling devotees to her shores. Natalia fell under the siren's call.
Co-written with Steve Fortosis, the writing style is mediocre, but the story is strong enough to keep a reader turning the pages. The choice of cover graphic does not mesh with the book's theme and is too blah for such a riveting tale. The ending puts a halt to the forward momentum, and it is a detriment to the story that notice of a sequel is not given at the conclusion leaving the reader feeling unsatisfied.
Overall, taking a big risk results in a dreamer turning into a pragmatist.
Story of a Disastrous Internet Romance by Svetlana Repina is available for $14.99 at Amazon.com and at SvetlanaRepina.com.
A complimentary review copy was provided by Svetlana Repina.
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