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33 Moments of Happiness: St. Petersburg Stories

33 Moments of Happiness: St. Petersburg Stories

by Ingo Schulze, John E. Woods (Translator), John E. Woods

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An intriguing, fabulously bizarre debut collection of short stories by prize-winning German writer Ingo Schulze, author of Simple Stories.

These thirty-three macabre, often comical short pieces revolve around moments of odd bliss–moments seized by characters who have found ways to conquer the bleakness of everyday life in the chaotic


An intriguing, fabulously bizarre debut collection of short stories by prize-winning German writer Ingo Schulze, author of Simple Stories.

These thirty-three macabre, often comical short pieces revolve around moments of odd bliss–moments seized by characters who have found ways to conquer the bleakness of everyday life in the chaotic world of post-communist Russia.

Peopled by Mafia gunmen, desperate young prostitutes, bewildered foreign businessmen, and even a trio of hungry devils, the stories are by turns tragic and bleakly funny. From a sly retelling of the legend of St. Nicholas featuring a rich American named Nick, to a lavish gourmet feast in which the young female cook ends up as the main dish, these stories are above all playful and even surreal–and many of them are masterful tributes to Russian writers from Gogol to Nabokov.

Translated by John E. Woods.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fantastic and fantastical."?Los Angeles Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From the pen of German dramaturge and newspaper journalist Schulze comes this tour de force of short-story writing, a remarkable gathering of "sketches" of modern-day St. Petersburg. Schulze, clearly a devoted student of Russian literature, constructs characters and scenes that portray complex aspects of the Russian character. In the first of several clever literary devices, Schulze distances himself from the narrative: the 33 sketches, he writes in a preface, were merely found on a train by someone else; in them, the author, a German businessman, "yielded more and more to his inclination to invent rather than to research." Some of the vignettes are presented as letters or snatches of overheard dialogue, and there are "editorial notes" at the end just in case the reader misses the recondite allusions to the work of Pushkin or Bulgakov. No matter; when the curtain rises on each brief piece the reader is instantly transported. In the Hotel St. Petersburg, the narrator is entranced by the lovely, elusive Maria, who recites Brodsky "as if she were planning a menu according to the vintage of the wines" before taking his money. There's a violent Mafia shoot-out at a disco that might or might not have been staged for the cameras. In everyday situations revealing Gogolian slight of hand or crowd scenes that erupt from Dostoyevskian despair, Schulze attempts to fathom the Russian soulthe immense capacity for the spiritual, as well as a recidivist brutality and "astounding ingenuity for humiliating others." Accomplished translator Woods has flawlessly rendered a rare and memorable work. First serial to the New Yorker.
Library Journal
It is an act of bravura for an outsider to attempt a literary portrait of a foreign city, but Schulze succeeds magnificently here. Usually beginning with a detailed and convincing depiction of life in the postcommunist era, Schulze sometimes stays within the bounds of realism, but more frequently uses the background as a platform to launch a flight of fantasy, sometimes charming, sometimes scurrilous, and sometimes scandalous but always thought-provoking. These stories, which do indeed revolve around moments of happiness, culminate in generalizations about the Russian character that would be banal if stated plainly and simply, but they acquire an odd authenticity when the reader glimpses them lurking behind the characters an their situations. While some of these stories would probably perplex or even irritate native Saint Petersburgers, they are probably as close to the soul of this fabled city as an outsider's imagination ever gets. Highly recommended.Michael T. O'Pecko, Towson State Univ., Md.
Jonathan Levi
"Fantastic and fantastical." -- Los Angeles Times
Gabriele Annan
"...writes so hypnotically that he can make you suspend your sense of the impossible." -- New York Review of Books
New York Times Book Review
"Translated by the justly celebrted John Woods."
Kirkus Reviews
A curious debut collection of linked stories by a young German writer who explores relations between his own country and Russia and various expressions of the Russian temperament, while also offering what seem parodies ofand homages toRussian writers in both vignettes and fully developed tales that ostensibly constitute "an ongoing discussion concerning the value of happiness." Schulze prefaces the stories with a frame in which a woman traveling by train across Europe to Petersburg enjoys a brief encounter with a German businessman named Hofmann, who leaves behind him a manuscript containing these taleswhich the lady passes to "I.S.," urging him to "lend these fantasies your name." The stories, which usually but not invariably observe Russian behavior from a Teutonic viewpoint, variously present comic-grotesque evidence of a people notable for their "vast hospitality" (a woman doctor who administers highly unprofessional last rites, so to speak, to a dying old man is hailed as a "saint"; street vendors seize a wealthy businessman and write their names and addresses on his body), desperate poverty (a widow without means prospers when an American named Nickand who may be St. Nicholasmarries in succession each of her surviving daughters), and political passion (a widow Communist goes door-to- door defending the Party's ideals; a temperamental painter destroys his canvases because they don't portray the "sufferings of his people"yet, in so doing, embodies "the despair of the artist"). Nor does Schulze spare his own culture. One story describes a naive traveler's (Hofmann's?) idealization of the prostitute he keeps encountering in hotels, and another recounts the unfortunate fate of a Germanrestaurateur who seeks artifacts from the czarist period as decorations, and unintentionally awakens still-heated memories of WW II. A rather mixed bag, though Schulze's sardonic intelligence and feeling for cultural contrasts give these seemingly disparate tales a pleasing unity and coherence.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

What People are Saying About This

James McManus
"His passionate...always adventuresome comedy."
Frankfurter Allegemein Zeitung
"These stories are simply masterpieces...Told with great ease and humor."

Meet the Author

Ingo Schulze, born in Dresden in 1962, studied classical philology at the University of Jena. He worked as the dramaturg at the Altenburg Theater until 1990, and then became a newspaper editor, a job that took him to St. Petersburg for six months in 1993. Since then he has lived in Berlin. His first book, 33 Moments of Happiness has won both the prestigious Döblin Prize and the Willner Prize for Literature. Three of the stories in this collection have recently appeared in The New Yorker.

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