Copper Sky — The Plot
Welcome to early 20th-century Butte, Montana: a small and depressing mining town. Men work themselves to death in the mines or die from consumption if they’re lucky enough to live that long. Married women slave away in their homes, bereft of any rights. Working girls are outcasts and eventually end up in the streets. Life is miserable, and the always present smog makes the atmosphere even gloomier.
Kaly finds herself in trouble. Her suffering childhood has left her traumatized, she’s a bit too old for her profession (the oldest one in the world), and now she finds herself pregnant. It seems there is no way out: she can either leave her baby in a shady orphanage with a drunken matron or raise the child in the streets where she will likely grow up to be a prostitute.
Marika has another sort of problem. A Balkan migrant, she has to obey to the family rules and centuries-old traditions that require her to marry a man she’s never met and become a housewife. Marika wants to make her family happy, but getting married would be the end of her dream to become a doctor.
As their paths cross, and they become unlikely friends, neither knows the family secret that ties them together.
My Honest Review
The thing I like about this novel is how character-centric it is. There are plenty of things going on to keep the plot moving, but the core of the story are Marika’s and Kaly’s characters. They are both well-developed and compelling.
Kaly is a bit cynical, untrusting, and street-smart. Her traumatic experiences have left her emotionally messed up and she finds it difficult to have faith in anyone, including herself. Opposed to her, we have Marika’s youthful naivete. A newcomer in Butte, she arrived there believing in all those wonderful possibilities that the “new world” can provide only to find out that there is as much poverty, suffering and death in America as anywhere else.
I loved that the author included Montenegrin families into the story. Reading about people from my region is pretty rare. I spent a lot of my childhood in Montenegro (as it was a part of my country back then) and I was glad to find out that Milana has done her research well. Although Marika isn’t really a common Montenegrin name, all other names, places, traditions, and food mentioned are typical for that period of Montenegrin history.
Milana’s style is wonderful as always. There are very few unnecessary dialogues and her descriptions truly add to the somber Butte atmosphere.
However, there is one thing that I didn’t like at all and that is the antagonist. I found it very unlikely that literally everyone in Butte is nice and friendly except for this one person who happens to be behind every single bad thing that happens. This obviousness also makes it horribly easy to figure out what happened to Kaly when she was a child. After only about 50 pages, the “mystery” of her trauma is no longer mysterious.
Although I didn’t like this novel as much as Milana’s next novel, The Swan Keeper, I still found it quite enjoyable. After all, Copper Sky is her debut novel, so it’s natural that it’s not perfect. I’d recommend the novel to those who like historical fiction focused on women’s rights and fight against gender roles.