Trading Tatiana – Debi Alper

Ttcover Earlier in July I found I had some unexpected time on my hands; felt a need to relax and have some escapism, and Trading Tatiana just happened to be close at hand…  The result was that I found it hard to tear myself away from Trading Tatiana until I’d finished the final page.

In a nutshell: Jo Cooper, ex-drug addict leads an uneventful life, moving between her jobs of market stall holder and gardener, but with a penchant for helping people who suddenly enter her life.  At the start of Trading Tatiana, Jo helps out Stapled Stan (from Nirvana Bites) when he finds himself in a bit of a predicament on the roof above Jo’s top floor flat.  Later, Jo takes her neighbour’s daughters on a trip to Brighton where she encounters the very frightened teenage Tatiana of the title.  Jo’s help to Tatiana eventually extends to offering a place of refuge in her own home.  Tatiana’s story is that she is in enforced prostitution as a result of the death of her parents and the subsequent intervention of a “good” family friend, who “loved her so much” he smuggled her out of the Ukraine to England.  Jo’s mission is to help Tatiana and find a way of getting her out of the grips of the thugs who profit from the empty and inhumane life they have forced on her…

Alper continues to use sharp and sometimes witty dialogue to whisk the pace for the book, but this is by no means a comedy.  As Mark Billingham highlighted the lives of the homeless in London in Lifeless and Margaret Murphy informed us about the way of life for legal immigrants in The Dispossessed, Alper’s story in Trading Tatiana explores and informs on the lives of both legal and illegal immigrants, and the lack of value attributed to those women are forced into prostitution, by their “owners” and the system.

There are quite harrowing and emotional passages in this book, that will haunt your memory.  One scene involves the interaction between Tatiana and another, where Tatiana tries to comfort the other in the only way she knows how.  Another scene comes close to the end, aiding the closure of the story in an appropriate way when it comes to realism, and it hurts.

The troop of characters met in Alper’s first novel Nirvana Bites make a welcome return.  But that’s the plan.  Alper has a series here, with two further books already prepared and awaiting a publisher.  I hope she finds a new publisher soon.  Her books deliver a gritty realisation of life in south London wrapped in a fast paced and sharply expressed mode of storytelling.

This was a story with a big heart; with a plot about a contemporary issue we need to better understand and do something to resolve.  Only a week after finishing the book, I spotted this article on the BBC’s website.

Second novels make for risky business.  Can the author deliver as well again?  Perhaps do better?  Alper certainly consolidates her position with Trading Tatiana, and I believe, achieves even more than with Nirvana Bites.  For me, the essence is in the fast pace and sharp delivery, sometimes comic, but this belies the fact that a serious story sits within the prose.  You can go from A to B in a hearse or a Golf GTi.  Alper chooses the GTi, which makes it a fun ride.  But what you encounter along the way is just the same and Alper is careful to ensure she dispenses with your “climate control” functionality to ensure it knocks you for six.