Between the Lines: Love and Vodka in Ukraine

Mar 10, 2016

National flag of Ukraine
Credit Wikipedia

According to science, "love" is really just another form of madness. The brain in love undergoes similar changes, from the rational to the irrational, and the resulting pheromone chemical soup can look a lot like insanity.


Dearborn-native and author R.J. Fox isn't likely to debate that. It took all of twenty minutes for him to fall in love with a foreign exchange student he spotted in a line for an amusement park ride. When she returned to her native Ukraine, he followed with an engagement ring in his pocket. More madness ensued.

In his memoir Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine (Fish Out of Water Books, October 2015), Fox recounts that initial meeting with Katya, and the trip to Ukraine a year later to bring her back to the States as his wife. His adventures in Ukraine as he works up the nerve to propose and earn the blessing of Katya’s family are both outrageous and hilarious.

Babushka-wearing old women curse him, snarl at and chase him, and threaten to splatter him with bleach. Well-meaning hosts force vodka on him in toast after toast that he can't decline for fear of giving offense. They lead to drunken stupors, cold outdoor showers, and barefoot walks across sharp rocks in his underwear. Along the way, Fox learns about a culture and a world far different than his own. Surrounded by its traditions and people, he finds himself in comical situations but also learns lessons about himself, love, and home.

Credit Fish Out of Water Press

What's stayed with him from that maddening journey, Fox says, is “...the immersive experience of being in a whole other world than the one I know. Out in public, people had a distrust toward me because I was not from Ukraine. This was in 2001, so not too far removed from the Soviet years when Ukraine was the center of missile-building during the Cold War. The distrust — it was the closest to feeling discriminated against that I’d ever known in my lifetime.”

But in inner circles of what would increasingly become family, Fox found warmth, love, and connection, not unlike what one would find in any family anywhere. It was all liberally christened with yet more vodka. Although the resulting marriage would last only eight years (Fox is now remarried with two children) he holds the memories of his Ukraine adventure close to his heart.

Fox's memoir Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine is the first book issued by a new Ann Arbor-based publisher, Fish Out of Water, run by Jon and Laurie Wilson.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.