An exhilaratingly comical, crosscultural novel, The Wife Who Wasn't brings together an eccentric community from the hills of Santa Barbara, California, and a family of Russians from Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. The novel starts in the late 1990s, after the fall of communism, and has at its center the mail-order marriage between a California man (Sammy) and a Russian woman (Tania), who comes to America and causes a series of hilarious cultural misunderstandings.
The novel's four parts take place alternately in California and Moldova, and comprise short chapters whose point of view moves seamlessly between that of an objective insider (the omniscient narrator) and that of a subjective outsider (various characters). This shift allows the reader to perceive both realities—late 90s bohemian California and post-communist Moldova—from opposite points of view.
A rollicking satire of both suburban America and urban Eastern Europe, The Wife Who Wasn't is a comedy of manners that depicts the cultural and personality clash between Tania and Sammy, Anna (Sammy's teenage daughter) and Irina, and Bill (Sammy's neighbor) and Serioja (Tania's brother). It is also a comedy of errors in the tradition of playful, multiple love triangles. The novel reaches a shocking climax involving a stolen Egon Schiele painting and alluding to the real history of East Mountain Drive, whose bohemian community was destroyed in the 2008 "Tea Fire."
"I enjoyed Alta Ifland's novel very much. A satirical comedy in the vein of Ilf and Petrov, The Wife Who Wasn't is full of well-drawn and totally believable characters with only enough of a caricatural touch to make them vivid and interesting. Ifland certainly gets the Moldovans down, and Santa Barbara too--I know these people." —Andrei Codrescu