Ivan Smetski never knew he was Jewish. He thought he was just like every other Russian boy in his Soviet village in the 1960s. Now all of a sudden, he’s Jewish, his name is Itzak Shlomo, he’s forced to learn Hebrew, and, worst of all, become circumcised. It’s all part of his parents’ plot to get them a visa to Israel, and ultimately to America.
While awaiting their visa, Ivan and his family stay with a distant cousin on a remote farm in the Carpathian Mountains, and young Ivan’s only comfort is his daily jog through the beautiful forests. But one day he comes upon something strange—a perfectly circular bed of dry leaves and in the center, what looks like the face of a sleeping woman. As he steps toward her, the leaves swirl away from his feet, even though there is no wind.
Ivan convinces himself that he is imagining things and gets out of there as quickly as he can. But the place haunts his dreams. He and his family make it to America, but Ivan cannot forget the circle of leaves and the strange, beautiful face at the center. One day, ostensibly to work on his dissertation in Old Slavonic literature, he returns to Russia and, finally, the circle of leaves.
There really is a woman there, so beautiful that Ivan kisses her as she sleeps. That turns out to be a problem, because the moment he does a huge snarling bear rears up out of the leaves. The princess opens her eyes and offers Ivan the only alternative to their both being eaten by a bear: ask me to marry you. Not surprisingly Ivan agrees.
It saves them from the bear—for the time being—but Ivan’s betrothal with this Russian princess of the year 890 C.E. turns out to be no picnic for either of them. Katarina scoffs at his clumsiness with a sword, but she gets her chance to experience culture shock when they go to his time and she takes her first ride on a jumbo jet.
Add to this retelling of Sleeping Beauty a jealous ex-fiance and a truly evil witch, and you have a wonderful adventure with a love story that is equal parts hilarious and tender.