Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia

Overview


Few countries have undergone more radical transformations than Russia has since the fall of the Soviet Union. The stories in Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia present twenty-three depictions of the new Russia from its most talented young writers. Selected from the pages of the top Russian literary magazines and written by winners of the most prestigious literary awards, most of these stories appear here in English for the first time.

“What’s new is the rhythm and snap of the hip, modern, contemporary ...

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Overview


Few countries have undergone more radical transformations than Russia has since the fall of the Soviet Union. The stories in Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia present twenty-three depictions of the new Russia from its most talented young writers. Selected from the pages of the top Russian literary magazines and written by winners of the most prestigious literary awards, most of these stories appear here in English for the first time.

“What’s new is the rhythm and snap of the hip, modern, contemporary voices that we would expect to hear rattling into a cell phone in the booth next to ours, and the rendering of that voice into an English that’s as idiomatic and confident as we imagine these speakers to be. . . . How fortunate we are . . . that we now have Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia”
—from the introduction by Francine Prose

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Tin House has done the world a service in its release of Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia...Think of these stories (or rasskazy) as the final frontier.”—Willamette Week

"The current state of Russian identity—artistic, political, social and beyond—is vigorously examined in this anthology, offering readers a multifaceted portrait of the complex nation, from short, poetic pieces like Oleg Zobern's 'Bregovich's Sixth Journey,' to nearly journalistic narratives like Arkady Babchenko's powerful and harrowing remembrance of the Chechen war ('The Diesel Stop'). The dreams and fears of young and old are included—Roman Senchin's 'History' follows a retired and politically indifferent professor who gets caught up in a mass arrest of protesters and subsequently must wake up to the oppressive realities of his country, and Anna Starobinet's 'Rules' is a whimsical and poignant sketch of a frighteningly perceptive boy. The editors point out that the stories 'fall broadly into the category of what can be referred to as New Russian Realism.' This realism, though, leaves plenty of room for surreal and dryly humorous perspectives (such as Kirill Ryabov's 'Spit' and Vadim Kalinin's 'The Unbelievable and Tragic Story of Misha Shtrikov and His Cruel Wife'). This is a truly diverse series of revelations."—Publishers Weekly

"...raw, intense and sure to leave an impression."—Douglas Smith, The Seattle Times

Rasskazy presents not only the future of Russian writing but also the future of literature, that hopelessly human project.”
—Aleksandar Hemon, author of Love and Obstacles

Rasskazy is a marvelous collection that gives an American reader a taste of the diversity of literary voices as well as the richness of post-Soviet Russian life.”
—Lara Vapnyar, author of Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love

"A collection of first-rate stories like Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia provides not only a much-needed renovation of our understanding of Russia's present, but also a glimpse into the world's future: a future featuring an exponential increase in sorrow and terror and corruption, endless premonitions of menace, and our main source of hope residing in the resilient capacities of human tenderness." —Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand Anyway

"The stories in Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia...aptly illustrate this unbroken continuum of Russian literature dating back as far as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, etc. etc...their work demonstrates the full breadth of aesthetics and topical concerns of this young generation."—Kevin Kinsella, TheRumpus.net

..."Rasskazy stands to remind us that Russia is a country still putting out vital literature—despite the memory of censorship that creeps into its writing."—Jason Diamonds, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"It is a triumph that Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia is one of those very few new translations surfacing in bookstores, because the voices in this collection are fresh and vital."—The Collagist

"These young authors are clearly aware of the literary lineage to which they are eternally rooted. Yet ultimately they know their prose must grow beyond such lineages in order to articulate a distinct and alternate future: new fiction for a new Russia."—The McGill Daily

"...these stories are about alienation and displacement...at least some Russians are still reading—not only themselves but their classics—as they write themselves out of cultural amnesia." —Maxim D. Shrayer, The Globe and Mail

'Rasskazy...is rich with detail and hard-edged beauty. It is full of brutality and the poignancy of living through hard times. This collection should enable this crop of modern authors to step out of the literary shadows. It's time for their turn in the sun." —Katie Schneider, The Oregonian

"Many old comrades reside here: loneliness, treachery, cruelty, melancholy, memories of disaster and departure, conveyed in heartrending tones by as talented a cohort of authors as to be found anywhere. This splendid collection of twenty-two Russians, none of whom had reached maturity when the Soviet Union collapsed, their work varied, so full of memorable situations, beckons the adventurous reader."—Dalkey Archive Press's Review of Contemporary Fiction

"These tales of love and loss and change and redemption are peculiarly affecting. They achieve what any good short story writer should aspire to: plumbing the depths of human emotions in only a few short pages." —Popmatters.com

"Many old comrades reside here: loneliness, treachery, cruelty, melancholy, memories of disaster and departure, conveyed in heartrending tones by as talented a cohort of authors as to be found anywhere."—Dalkey Archive Press's Review of Contemporary Fiction

Publishers Weekly
The current state of Russian identity—artistic, political, social and beyond—is vigorously examined in this anthology, offering readers a multifaceted portrait of the complex nation, from short, poetic pieces like Oleg Zobern's “Bregovich's Sixth Journey,” to nearly journalistic narratives like Arkady Babchenko's powerful and harrowing remembrance of the Chechen war (“The Diesel Stop”). The dreams and fears of young and old are included—Roman Senchin's “History” follows a retired and politically indifferent professor who gets caught up in a mass arrest of protesters and subsequently must wake up to the oppressive realities of his country, and Anna Starobinet's “Rules” is a whimsical and poignant sketch of a frighteningly perceptive boy. The editors point out that the stories “fall broadly into the category of what can be referred to as New Russian Realism.” This realism, though, leaves plenty of room for surreal and dryly humorous perspectives (such as Kirill Ryabov's “Spit” and Vadim Kalinin's “The Unbelievable and Tragic Story of Misha Shtrikov and His Cruel Wife”). This is a truly diverse series of revelations. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780982053904
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,284,233
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword Mikhail Iossel Jeff Parker 11

Introduction Francine Prose 17

They Talk Linor Goralik 21

A Potential Customer Ilya Kochergin 33

Bregovich's Sixth Journey Oleg Zobern 63

Have Mercy, Your Majesty Fish Olga Zondberg 69

History Roman Senchin 77

Drill and Song Day Vladimir Kozlov 97

Richeva Nikolai Epikhin 105

Nuclear Spring Evgeni Alyokhin 125

The Diesel Stop Arkady Babchenko 133

Why the Sky Doesn't Fall German Sadulaev 177

More Elderly Person Dmitry Danilov 201

The Pleshcheyev Lake Monster Marianna Geide 209

Spit Kirill Ryabov 233

The Unbelievable and Tragic History of Misha Shtrikov and his Cruel Wife Vadim Kalinin 243

Between Summer and Fall Maria Kamenetskaya 253

Russian Halloween Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov 259

It All Depends on Who you Believe Maria Boteva 273

Rules Anna Starobinets 285

The Seventh Toast to Snails Ekaterina Taratuta 293

D.O.B. Aleksander Snegirev 307

The Killer and His Litter Friend Zakhar Prilepin 331

One Your in Paradise Natalya Klyuchareva 343

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First Chapter

Rasskazy

New Fiction from a New Russia

Tin House Books

Copyright © 2009 Mikhail Iossel, Jeff Parker, Vladimiir Kozlov
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-9820539-0-4


Chapter One

Each year around the twenty-third of February, to celebrate the anniversary of the Red Army, we had Drill and Song Day at school. Classes from the first through seventh grades made their own "military" uniforms and performed drills in the gym, with rhymed slogans and songs. At two tables in the corner of the gym sat our patrons: our headmistress, school director, military instructor, and the deputy trade-union head from the tire factory. They assigned places.

Classes from the first, second, and third grades competed separately. The previous year, our class, then 2-B, had taken second place, and this time we hoped to be first: last year's winners, 3-C, were now 4-C and had to participate in the older-grades' competition. Not only had they taken first place in our school, but at the district level as well, and second in the whole city, and the director always brought them up as an example to other classes.

Our homeroom teacher, Valentina Petrovna-unattractive, prematurely aged (she was no older than thirty at the time, but her face was all wrinkled)-was very worried: what if it didn't come together and we failed to take first place in the school? Even worse, what if we did, but then completely humiliated ourselves at the district level?

We began to prepare for the competition at the end of January. Vera Saprykina's parents, through their theater-club connections, got us red cavalry budyonovka cloth helmets and red stripes to sew on our shirts. We learned by heart the song: White army, black baron Are readying for us again the tsarist throne But from the taiga to Britain's far seas ... etc.

Every day after our lessons, Valentina Petrovna went to find out if there was a class in the gym, and if there wasn't, our whole class went there to sing the song and practice our march with rhymed slogans. Sometimes Valentina Petrovna invited our phys ed teacher, Ksenia Filimonovna, to take a look at how we marched.

Some ten days before the competition, Valentina Petrovna staged a purge, eliminating those who might spoil the class's performance.

"Tsygankov, it'd be dangerous to bring you to the competition: you could show up in a dirty shirt, for crying out loud, or forget to sew your stripes on it. And you, Zhuravin. Same goes for you."

Tsygankov was a small, skinny little guy. He was the youngest of many children in a family that lived in a private house behind the tire factory. His nickname was Piss Boy, because in the morning Tsygankov often reeked of urine, and everyone knew that at night he pissed the bed. Besides that, he often came to school in a dirty shirt. One didn't usually notice this, but when we undressed before phys ed in the cramped, stinky booth and he hung his shirt on a hook, one could see the ring around his collar. I didn't call Tsygankov "Piss Boy" myself, because I had only stopped pissing the bed as recently as second grade.

The other outcast, Zhuravin, spent two years in the first grade and two in the second, and was now on his second year in the third. He was already twelve or thirteen. Zhura was cross-eyed and his mouth was always hanging open, but he was considered the premier hooligan around. He smoked and had a juvenile-offender's record at a local militia precinct.

On Ksenia Filimonovna's prompting, Valentina Petrovna also excluded Korkunova-a fat girl and unremarkable C student, who just couldn't march in lockstep with others-and me. I was tall and clumsy and marched unhandsomely. Valentina Petrovna consulted for a long while with Ksenia Filimonovna-I heard them say my last name a few times. Valentina Petrovna was probably hesitant because of my good grades, but in the end, she must have decided that the interests of the whole class-and potentially the entire school, were we to go on to district level-were more important than mine.

I was upset and came home sad. When I told everything to my parents that evening, my mother said, "Maybe I should go to the school and speak to that twit." But Dad convinced her not to go.

"You'll only turn her against Seryozha," he said. "There's no grade given for the competition, after all, and all the grades are in her hands."

Soon I realized I'd lost nothing, while actually gaining something. After class I didn't have to trundle to the gym anymore and march like a moron. Instead I went home, changed clothes, turned on the television or the Radiola, ate, then sat down to do lessons, and tried to do them as fast as possible so I could play with my construction set or draw in my notebooks.

When the big day was just a week off, even lessons themselves were sacrificed for the sake of preparation. If the gym happened to be free as early as first period, Valentina Petrovna assigned homework and the class went to rehearse. We, the four "rejects," went along, and while the rest marched, we sat on the long, bare, wooden benches by the wall and watched. Valentina Petrovna was always freaking out.

"What is this nonsense?" she would yell. "What kind of marching is this? What kind of singing? A shame and a sin! You want to humiliate me, your own teacher? In front of the whole school? I'd be ashamed to look other teachers in the eye if we didn't take first place." * * * "Today we will rehearse for two periods, the second and third. The gym will be free," Valentina Petrovna said right after the bell rang.

The class shouted, "Hooray!"

Almost everyone was happy that instead of doing lessons we were preparing for the competition. To me it made no difference and was even a little upsetting: I did my lessons, fair and square, and now nobody was checking them.

"Let's cut out during second period," Zhura said to Tsygankov and me. "Let them keep hoofing it till they shit themselves."

The three of us sat on a bench. Korkunova was absent-she was sick.

"What if Valentina notices we're not here?" I asked.

"Don't piss yourself, she won't notice."

Tsygankov didn't say anything, but he came with us. Nobody was friends with him or invited him anywhere, so he was probably glad that Zhura had included him.

"First let's see if maybe they brought rolls for the buffet. Then we could fucking cop some," Zhura said.

The buffet was next to the dining room, on the third floor. I hated the dining room because there we were made to eat the gooey, unappetizing mess of semolina gruel or watery potato puree with a flaccid dill pickle. And one time Ivankov from the C class found a cockroach in his beef patty, and all the students came running to see it, and Lenka Vykhina from our class threw up, right on the table.

At the buffet, on the other hand, apart from the withered cheese sandwiches spread out in the glass case, they did sell a few tasty things-pirozhki with jam for five kopecks, for example. True, these pirozhki were delivered rarely, and when they were delivered, an enormous line formed, and there were never enough pirozhki for everyone. But there were also poppy-seed rolls, shortbread, and sugared pretzels. All of it was carried to the third floor from the back entrance, where trucks from the bread factory drove up. Right up the stairs, because there wasn't a freight elevator in the school. The buffet lady, Olga Borisovna-a crusty, sinewy old woman-usually enlisted the help of one of the dishwashers, and together they lugged a basket with pirozhki and shortbreads up the stairs, during a class period if possible, so that nobody would try to steal anything.

We were lucky. Down below they had just unloaded the truck, and Borisovna and the dishwasher in her dirty apron were carrying up a basket of rolls.

"Now listen," Zhura commanded. "We run up, snatch two each, then run down."

"Ah, you motherfuckers, I'll kill you!" screamed the dishwasher, but she didn't chase us. We ran down the stairs into the first-floor bathroom and stuffed ourselves with our rolls.

"Wanna smoke?" Zhura asked when we were finished eating.

"Okay," I said.

"And you, Piss Boy?"

"Me too."

Zhura slipped a crumpled pack of Primas from his pocket and gave us each a cigarette, then took out a lighter and lit them all himself. I held the cigarette in my mouth, not knowing what to do with it.

"You, like, drag on it or something, what the fuck's it burning by itself for?" Zhura laughed.

I dragged and began to cough. I looked at Tsygankov-he was smoking like Zhura, inhaling and letting smoke out. I couldn't do it like that.

"Now let's go to the store and cop a fucking loaf," said Zhura.

"You're not full from the rolls?" I asked.

"Nah."

"Maybe we should go get dressed first in the cloakroom."

"Well, you do that if you want, but me, I'm plenty warm."

We skipped the cloakroom. We all three walked down the hall and out into the cold in our uniforms and slippers.

In the store Zhura whispered to us:

"Fucking watch and learn, children."

He inconspicuously shoved a loaf of white bread under his jacket and calmly walked past the cashier and out onto the street. We darted out behind him.

"How often do you do this?" I asked.

"Always," Zhura guffawed. "This ain't pissing the bed for you."

I thought Tsygankov would get offended, but he didn't say anything.

Zhura broke off a piece of bread and passed the rest to us. "Well then, now-let's go ride the elevator."

Tsygankov and I broke off pieces. I noticed that he had dirty hands-not just blue with ink, but also covered in some kind of brown crud.

We headed toward the nine-story apartment building, the only building in the whole neighborhood with an elevator. Zhura walked ahead a little, Tsygankov and I following.

"I'll only ride with you," said Tsygankov. "Not with Zhura."

Zhura pushed the red elevator button, and the doors slid apart.

"You go first. We'll come after you," I said.

"All right. I'll wait at the top."

Zhura went into the cabin and pressed the highest button. The doors closed, and the elevator went up with a noise. We heard it stop somewhere high above and the doors open.

The button light went off, and I pressed it.

When the elevator came back down, Tsygankov and I stepped into the cabin. The plastic walls were covered in ink doodlings, and the lamp on the ceiling was smeared with soot. I pressed the highest button.

"You're an all right guy," said Tsygankov. "How about you be my friend."

"Okay."

The elevator arrived on the ninth floor, and we got out of the cabin. Zhura was waiting for us by the iron stairs to the elevator room, from which there was a passage leading to the roof.

"The pad's open. Shove on in," he said.

We climbed up behind him on the raggedy iron stairs, went into the elevator room, and from there, to the roof, which was covered with snow. Our entire neighborhood was visible: several five-story buildings, the school, whole blocks of wooden houses. The streets were busy with cars, and the tire factory billowed smoke in the distance. Along the edge of the roof ran a banister-it was not very tall, about a meter high or maybe a little less.

Zhura went to the edge, leaned over, and looked down. Then he climbed up the banister, sat down, his feet flung over the edge as if it wasn't high up there at all. My legs ached with fear; I was scared of heights.

Zhura turned to us.

"Come on over. Don't be piss-pants. It's awesome up here."

He took out the cigarettes and lit one up. Tsygankov went over to him, and Zhura passed him the pack and lighter. Tsygankov took a cigarette and lit up too. I couldn't make myself move.

"Well, what say, you too yellow to sit like me?" Zhura said to Tsygankov. "I understand-you're the Piss Boy."

Tsygankov silently returned the cigarettes and lighter. My legs ached still more, and I thought I might be the one to piss myself.

Tsygankov put his hand on the banister. It was too high for him, and he couldn't just sit on it like Zhura. Tsygankov threw one leg over the banister, pushed off with the other, slipped, and fell.

Zhura looked at me.

"That's fucking it for Piss Boy. But he proved he was no Piss Boy. And you didn't."

Zhura got off the banister and came up to me.

"You're the Piss Boy, Nikonov. A mama's boy."

I was afraid he'd hit me, but he didn't.

"Let's go downstairs. The cops'll come in a minute. They'll ask questions," said Zhura.

"What if we just leave? As if we were never here?"

"What are you, nuts?"

We went back downstairs. A crowd of people surrounded the spot where Tsygankov lay. An ambulance and a militia car showed up. It seemed like I had been dreaming and was just about to wake up.

The cops put us in the car and drove over to the precinct. They interrogated us separately in juvenile-detention rooms.

"Admit it, did you push him off the roof?" the cop asked, grabbing me by the shirt collar and under my throat. "Fess up quick, you little maggot."

I cried quietly. Then my parents arrived, and the cop let me go. The three of us went home. The whole way home we were silent. * * * Drill and Song Day was postponed a day because of Tsygankov's funeral. Our whole class went. Tsygankov lay in a coffin, and his mother was keening over him. She was already drunk and from time to time began to swear. Valentina Petrovna cried a lot. Everybody said she was going to jail, because Tsygankov was killed when we were supposed to be in class.

On Drill and Song Day our class took first place. At the district level, we placed only fifth. Valentina Petrovna didn't go to jail, but she left to work at a different school, and Anna Sergeyevna, a teacher trainee, took over for the fourth quarter.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Rasskazy Copyright © 2009 by Mikhail Iossel, Jeff Parker, Vladimiir Kozlov. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    New voices from an old place

    New Fiction from a New Russia
    Rasskazy-defined as narratives, stories, tales
    Edited by Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker
    Rasskazy is a collection of excerpts and short stories set throughout Russia, and provides a more positive depiction of Moscow than last week's Moscow Noir. This is completely different from other selections I've read from Russia, and much of it has a level of humor not always associated with Russian writing.
    The "New Russia" is evident everywhere, as there isn't many references to the old Cold War struggles of poverty, crime, and brutality. They may make a brief appearance, but it certainly isn't a theme. These appear to be younger writers, creating a new and lighter style. In They Talk, an eavesdropper hears the secrets and silliness in other people's conversations: ".and until the dog kicks the bucket, you're not moving it from that apartment." Or, ".when he loved me, I wasn't jealous, and when he didn't love me-I was. I'd start calling, aggravating both myself and him, until one time an ambulance came for me." The little fragments of conversation are both poignant and funny. They could be heard anywhere, and that re-emphasizes the theme a "new Russia".
    Another story, A Potential Customer, reveals what a young man gets out of his visit to an old friend: "I must tell others of my life, in order to see my reflection in their pupils." As he visits Moscow after an absence, he's waiting for his reappearance to be significant. He goes out and stands in the square. "I was prepared to be noticed, my plans had allowed for it as an integral part of my vacation, but Moscow sailed past..the depressing suspicion crept in that this time, as if out of spite, everything would be just as it had been a thousand times before..My native city would not recognize me."
    Or the lonely blogger, in Have Mercy, Your Majesty Fish, who finds a mysterious commenter is the only one of many who understands her posts. His cryptic responses leave her hanging.
    My favorite of the collection is Bregovich's Sixth Journey, by Oleg Zobern, about a professor who travels out of Moscow for some quiet space to work on papers. His drunken neighbor keeps a starving dog in the frozen yard. "One time I thought I saw barbed wire strung around his doghouse, with little guard towers standing around it. That would make the space between the house and the shed, where Ivan Denisovich's doghouse sits, into a little one-dog prison camp." The narrator feeds the dog, plays his music too loud, and tries to understand the Russian literature he assigns his students. "I find it hard to study this stuff because it's so close to me; it's where I live, in a way. The further back you go in the century, the simpler it is, everything's in its place..I divide the writers into the living and the dead and begin with the dead.The dead: they're like family to me already." In the end, the dog named after Solzhenitsyn's famous prisoner is released to roam free. An action that becomes symbolic of the Russian people in this new time as a whole.
    The collection is huge, and would make a great selection for course adoption in a Russian history class.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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