Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine by Dan Piepenbring

Sophie Pinkham’s Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine, the best travel book I’ve read this year—it’s a funny, alert, and more vital account of life there than any you’ll find in the media. Pinkham has a gift for portraiture; even the people she meets in passing feel alive on the page. In an excerpt on the n+1 site, she hikes and camps on the Crimean cape of Meganom, where naked Moldovan hippies spend the summer playing panpipes and living off the land. Pinkham tries to cross the chasm between her life and theirs: “I had never been so acutely aware of my lack of the basic skills that have allowed people to keep themselves alive for millennia,” she writes. “I met a six-year-old who could make borscht; her twelve-year-old brother could dive for mussels. Neither could read—but what good was reading when you were hungry for dinner? The children reminded me of deer, slim and agile, with caramel limbs and sun-bleached hair. They almost never cried, probably because no one would have listened.”