Friday, January 13, 2006

Everybody I Love You: The Book

Before coming to Ukraine, I read Culture Shock! Ukraine, a book so woefully out of touch (the author is Meredith Dalton) it actually advises non-drinkers not to travel to Ukraine. Do not buy this book. It's outdated and just plain dumb. Shortly after I sold that book on the internet, another title was published, Lonely Planet's first guidebook dedicated solely to Ukraine (before it had been lumped together with Belarus and Russia or all of Eastern Europe). This is a much better book, though it favors the tourist cities of western Ukraine and the destinations of the Black Sea.

Something seemed wrong about that. After all, 50 percent of all tourism to Ukraine is based on the marriage agencies, as this article from last August suggests, and tourism is up at least 15 percent since the Ukrainian government rolled back the visa requirement, thereby making it an impulse buy for Americans, Japanese and Western Europeans to come to this corner of the former Eastern Bloc.

If anything, Lonely Planet should have written their book with the marriage agency traveler in mind. For starters, it should've dedicated more than five (mostly textless) pages to Kharkov, which for many people is their main destination in Ukraine. (Kiev, in comparision, was given 30 pages). Granted, Lonely Planet is the first group to acknowledge Kharkov in any substantial way. In all the other travel books I looked through while browsing the stacks at the Book Barn in Davis, I saw maybe a handful of lines dedicated to the city of 1.5 million -- and many books didn't even mention it at all.

The smaller cities of Eastern Ukraine, many of them home to thriving marriage agencies, receive even less attention in the pages of Lonely Planet. So ... yeah, I couldn't help but think the book people needed wasn't available. Traveling here for most people is an adventure, something that represents a great change in their behavior, a new risk in their life, but it shouldn't be like entering the jungles of 19th Century Siam. What times do the trains run between Kharkov and Kiev, you know? And can I stop off in Poltava? Should I take the bus instead? And why is it wrong to think I can rent a car?

Nothing too deep, this, but for many people pretty valuable information. And so yes, seeing as how I'm learning all this stuff anyway, and will be learning even more with all the travel I have planned for the spring and early summer, I thought I should bring everything together under one cover (two if you flip the thing over).

Originally I had planned to write an expose of the marriage agency scene. But without an advance of some kind, some interest from a publisher, I just don't want to commit the time and energy to the project. I've got other things to write. My novel, for one, and my short story collection, the last of which will contain some stories set against the back-drop of the marriage-agency scene. The book I now have planned won't be literature, for the most part, it'll be information. So that's something I can handle and probably something more people would want anyway.

What will Everybody I Love You: The Book look like? Well, it'll probably have a different title. Beyond that, this is what I'm thinking at present:

* It'll profile the forgotten cities and the marriage agencies in each.
* It'll tell you where to stay, what to eat, how to find a decent cup of coffee or a tall glass of beer.
* Give information about the trains and buses.
* List internet cafes and phone banks, so you can always get online or make a phone call or place a fax.
* I'll include storiestoo, because I can't leave the writing side entirely behind. So stories like this one of Bill in Odessa will appear to give you an idea of those who've gone before you. These won't be romances. They'll be stories that share real experiences, good and bad.
* And no doubt I'll also include some of my commentary on local customs and whatnot, like I so often do on this blog.

Because the marriage agencies often come and go, I think I'll focus my interviews on those companies that've been around for at least two or three years. That way, for each city profiled, there'll be at least one good profile of a marriage agency from that city, along with a profile of its owner/operator. If there's one that interests me more than another (because I'm still researching this stuff for my short fiction), I'll search that one out. But if an agency contacts me, I may agree to profile that one. We'll just have to see.

If nothing else, I'll list all the marriage agencies I know of. I'll also accept ads from any that choose to contact me. This won't influence the editorial side of things, if only because I'm too stupid to get rich that way. And in the end, once a journalist, always a journalist.

I don't know. This is an announcement. I wanted some feedback, but then too I wanted to hold my feet to the fire, to do this publicly so I couldn't just turn my back and wave my hand and walk away. Tell me what you think. Tell me what you'd like to see.

Thanks -- Stephan.


Myfanwy Collins said...


I think this is a really cool and original idea. It's a book I'd read whether I was planning to travel to Ukraine or not.


WittyName32 said...

If it's a book you'd read, you've been blessed with an abundance of kindness. Let's see where it goes. I'm thinking web-based publishing.

Kevin McMahan said...


I think this would be a very successful book!

Try to lay-out the entire process of formualting all the documents needed to either bring your Ukrainian Fiance or Wife back to America.

I went through this myself, and I still don't know everything I had to do (how many hoops I had to jumo through).

And, it's something each American has to deal with. You could help them, but not making them "do it alone."

You could maybe interview an Employee at the US Embassy. And, I heard soon you wouldn't have to travel to Warsaw, Poland to get your VISA / Green Card (and, is it really Green?)

I had a Peace Corps Volunteer ask me yesterday what this process entails. And, I know I couldn't remember every step.

If you're interested I could write a few pages going from the point my wife and I decided to go ahead and get married, until she came through, on the other side of Immigration, in New York City.

Come on, you must see the importance in including this in one of your chapters...


Richard said...

Sounds like a good plan, Stephan. If there's a market for brides, there's a niche for your book. And I agree with Myf--it would be fun to read.

Limey said...

I have to agree that the present load of guidebooks for Ukraine are dire. I bought The Bradt guide to Ukraine by Andrew Evans. I should have read the author profile. the guy is an ex-missionary to Ukraine. Its therefore huge on churches, strong on western Ukraine and pretty much devoid of any useful information.