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Articles tagged "Russian Literature"

Sergei Lebedev’s “Oblivion”

“The past,” William Faulkner famously wrote, “is never dead.” His dictum is twisted in countries beset by political amnesia, where that past is not just dead, but often full of the dead—innocents murdered by firing squads, starved to death in labor camps, buried and forgotten in mass graves. In such circumstances, it’s the novelist’s task to resurrect the anonymous dead, or to reveal how their spirits haunt their nation’s amnesiac psyche. In...

Venedikt Erofeev’s “Walpurgis Night”

To those five-sixths parts of the world not encircled by Russian borders—borders that, for centuries, have flittered carelessly across map-faces like so many loose ribbons in the wind—at least a Russian identity of letters feels stable and secure: there is Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy; beside them proudly prance characters crafted in their image, Onegin, Bazarov, Prince Myshkin, and Levin. So, while the peoples of Ukraine and Eastern Crimea continue daily to suffer...

Russia is Restless: A Brooklyn Book Festival Event

On September 19, almost sixty people gathered at Karloff Restaurant in Brooklyn for dinner and conversation with exiled Uzbek writer and BBC reporter Hamid Ismailov and Russian-American novelist Boris Fishman. The Brooklyn Book Festival event was hosted by Restless Books, a Brooklyn-based, digital-first publisher devoted to a wide range of international literature. Only a year old, Restless Books is off to an impressive start, with twenty-two titles by writers from countries such as Cuba,...

Mikhail Shishkin’s “The Light and the Dark”

Very rarely does a book aim to tell not only the story of its writer, but also that of its possible readers—all of them, including those who will never read it. Mihkail Shishkin’s The Light and the Dark is that rare work. This “letter-book,” as the title indicates in the original Russian, is the record of the correspondence between Sasha and Volodya, two lovers separated by war. The novel is also a story of the relationship between a self and its better half:...

Writing without Smileys: Dmitri Novoselov on \“Traders\”

Recently I unwittingly offended a friend. He didn’t get the point of a joke I’d made in an e-mail and took it seriously instead. Later he called me to sort things out. I asked why he’d felt snubbed: it was clearly a joke, wasn’t it? Pretty much, he replied, it looked like a joke and he wanted to believe it was, but I hadn’t put a smiley at the end. What the heck… But he was right—I hadn’t used a smiley. I apologized for hurting his feelings....

On the Moscow Metro and Being Gay

In the catalogue of sins in his Divine Comedy, which is as random as it is insanely detailed, Dante found room for the sin that “dared not speak its name” long before Oscar Wilde’s trial—one of which Dante’s beloved guardian and tutor Brunetto Latini was also guilty. (He placed such sinners in the Seventh Circle of Hell, near the suicides and usurers, but above thieves and bribe-takers.) I always wished that Dante had added another sin, one which probably...

Interview with Hamid Ismailov

Hamid Ismailov is an Uzbek journalist, novelist, poet and translator who was born in the Soviet Union in 1954 in what is now Kyrgyzstan. His poem "Lovers in Samarkand," co-translated by Richard McKane, appeared in our September issue, Writing from the Silk Road. In 1992 he was forced to flee his home in the Uzbek capital Tashkent when his writing drew negative attention from government officials. Under threat of arrest he moved to London and now heads the Central Asian division of the BBC...

Petroleum Venus

“Vanya, why are you sitting in the dark?” “I’m looking at the picture,” came the imperturbable reply. “What picture?” What new fantasy had come into his mind? I walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. A picture frame he had brought in off the street was propped against our pot-bellied fridge. It had a picture in it. I flicked the switch and warm light flowed down from our tumblerlike lampshades. A naked blonde, her...

None of Your Business

For a long time the fact that the Krivovs drank was something only their son knew. When it began, Yurka had just started first grade. In the beginning, the Krivovs were embarrassed by their disease and drank together in their smoked-up apartment.   Perched on the windowsill behind the curtain, Yurka would draw squiggles on his writing assignments, memorize the poem about "the forest, like a tower chamber painted" to the sound of his parents' droning, and glue colored paper...

Hello?

Have you ever traveled in an overcrowded bus? Rammed up against the window with your cheek squashed against the glass and the handrail bruising your ribs? No need to answer. Of course you have. No, really, I’m not being rude. Why am I asking? Because I need somewhere to start and that was the setting of the incident which set off the thoughts which underlie this narrative.  All right? So I got on a bus. Well no, I didn’t just get on. I forced my way in like a digger...

An Uncoincidence, a Noncoincidence

An uncoincidence, a noncoincidence. Oh, how broad are the earth’s estates, oh, how unthinkable is grace here. How unobtrusive is God's care, how many reasons to sob inconsolably. You thirst for communication—the time is mute. You thirst for flight—unflyable weather. You thirst for an answer—a blind wall, stagnant water, swampy duckweed and someone’s cold...

Drawings on a Soccer Ball

the last name of the player on the german team translates into russian as pig crawling up a blond graceful creature the polish boys got lost at the equator with nothing to breathe amidst the qualifying south american auschwitz the polish boys will asphyxiate doubly poplar down a million white fluffy unofficial balls and none of them counts eleven glasses of islam drown in mexican tequila they say that in the daniel defoe novel the round island of tobago there was...

Soul, you are a street

Soul, you are a street, leading into rain from the outskirts full of dry leaves: it is more humid closer to the central plaza—        I am a paving block and slipperiness.   Between the tight boulders the water weakly beats, like the rataplan of an injured regiment—the grass and leaves of past warm years hide there.   The quieted footsteps will not disturb us: the nervous race has all but fully spilled and hidden in the...

Just Gone to Bed

Just gone to bed Oh well, not turning the light on Barefoot Jerking the shin back from the cold rim And nothing Something gripes inside and However I strain doesn’t come Remembered in horror M.P. telling how adenoma they reach it with a cutter through the urethra good gracious to the bathroom not feeling the pain hit the toes against the door jamb okay okay here’s a toothbrush with aero- dynamic handle squatting push it furiously into the rear up and down...

Babel in Paris

Babel loved plump women. Where there’s lots of flesh there’s lots of sweetness. Lots of warmth, heat, tenderness, there’s a caress of sunshine and a velvety splash of the sea. In the damp, spongy folds of skin and in the large soft breasts, whether at rest or swaying gently in motion, there’s the comfort of a gently rocking cradle. French women—take your pick—were thin and wiry, coquettish and agile like monkeys.Hard to keep your eye on them. They...

From 2017

That night, under the muffled, machine-like sound of the rain, the professor dreamed that this woman had come to him. Naked and very skinny, she was as perfect as a Latin letter, a sample of a special human typeface. Tucking up her angular elbow, she lay on her back, and her belly was as white as a mug of milk. There was nothing special in the lizard-narrow creature, but all the beauty on the banks of the corundum river had been a preface to this body, to the maddening shadow under her...

From “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away”

"Hey young fellow, it's your stop . . ." Sluzhkin was being prodded by the old guy on the opposite bench. He unglued his eyes, sprang onto his knees still in his sleeping bag, and shot a look through the upper window pane, because the lower one was thickly overgrown with a dense cover of icy ferns. The lopsided, gray little houses of Valyozhnaya were undulating past the electric train, across the hillside. "Code red, gang!" Sluzhkin roared. "We nearly missed Valyozhnaya!" The...

The Siblings’ Watch

He walked, a flame before him, It seemed to have appeared behind one shoulder, then the other, There were not many people, there was no sun, before the demolition Of the house they stood the day before Pokrov, Sent circles out And came forth from the Earth Before the face of those left without a roof. Last time they crossed by paths made up of smoke From house to house, to sit in attic windows Knee deep in shit, around the corners inaccessible by Earth, With one's own...

Fragments from the Dollmaker’s Life

1 A woman tells the Dollmaker. —What happens in your shop Why do you spend all night and day in there It can't be for the sake of money You wouldn't have time to spend it anyway So why the work all day? Look there, the bootmaker Returning from the fair He sways under the wind like a young oak You know, he's got a knife in his coat pocket Can't bring himself to part with it you see And look, The baker closed up early To get a taste of...

One Hundred and One Minutes . . .

. . . of sitting around the table and talking of voyages to faraway lands and strange events,—of how it all is, and how it may be, and how it always is, and, then again, infrequently; of secret plots and signs, of flights and shots and lines, of lovely ladies and sailing laddies, of snails and demons, of deaths and endeavors, of mermaids and cats, of weather and dread, of comical people, of cannons a little, of miracle prizes and map exercises. 1 Voyages are always precipitated...

The Brother’s Keeper

My brother ran away from me at Kursky. The depot then was an ordinary railroad station, not the modern monstrosity of cement and colored tile that it is today. It housed a crowd of people in its lobby and had all the warmth of a truly human space. Benches filled the middle, with people sitting shoulder to shoulder. That's where they slept, yawned, ate—and kept a hand on their suitcases and eyes on the Gypsies. The Gypsies themselves were actually headed somewhere by train, just...

Farewell to the Queue

An era can be judged by street conversations. "Look, there's a line." "What're they giving out?" "Just get on it, then we'll find out." "How much should I get?" "As much as they'll give you." This touching dialogue from the Brezhnev era should be etched on the stern granite of Lenin's mausoleum—in memory of the great era of socialist paradise. And if anyone were to think seriously about a monument to that period, I would suggest that the empty...

Ten Short Pieces

The Artist's Likeness Is Like an Artist This tale is rather old: Two painters wanted to see which of them could paint the painting that best imitated reality . . . One of the painters painted the front of a house, and the illusion was so perfect, so exact, that at first his competitor believed he had lost, but then understood that he simply had to enter the painted house and hang the painting that he had painted on a wall inside. The Angel Who Photographed God Who, these days,...

On the Use and Abuse of Letherburg for Life

You will have had no difficulty recognizing the German crib tacked onto Daniil Kharms's neologism in the title of my remarks. It is Nietzsche's essay "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life," written in 1874 and published in the collection Untimely Meditations. In the essay, Nietzsche warns of the dangers that arise when a self-sufficient sense of history turns excessive. This historical sense tends to degenerate into an uncritical, antiquarian attitude, which undermines...

The Beginning

I wake up at eight a.m. On the sixteenth floor every day at eight a.m. Sorokin sneezes. After that, on the fifteenth floor, Aunt Masha falls out of bed. I wake up because I live on the fourteenth floor and hear both Sorokin sneezing and Aunt Masha falling. I hear them distinctly, sometimes even wake anticipating the sounds, nervous if they are late. And so, I finally hear a loud sneeze that resembles the blast of an antipersonnel shell, followed by the dull thud of Aunt Masha's...

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