“Playful and poetic . . . A foxy, original writer. Memory fuses with wonder, and wonder with worship." —The Wall Street Journal
“Marvelously vivid, perfectly tuned. . . Tolstaya is well known in Russia as a brilliant and caustic political critic, but her memories of her Soviet childhood have a tender, personal quality.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Grimly hilarious ... Everything in this generous writer’s hands is vivid and alive …Tolstaya is divinely quotable—slangy, indignant, lyrical, crude...It’s all sublime...the swerve and cackle, the breeziness and dark depths...the torrents of language and the offhand perfect touch…She has been compared to Chekhov. Absurd...Tolstaya barrels by him and knocks him in the ditch.” —Joy Williams, Bookforum
From one of modern Russia's finest writers, a spellbinding collection of eighteen stories, her first to be translated into English in more than twenty years.
Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories. A woman's deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window. With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives. These tales, about politics, identity, love, and loss, cut to the core of the Russian psyche, even as they lay bare human universals. Tolstaya's characters--seekers all--are daydreaming children, lonely adults, dislocated foreigners in unfamiliar lands. Whether contemplating the strategic complexities of delivering telegrams in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, vibrant inner lives and the grim elements of existence are registered in equally sharp detail in a starkly bleak but sympathetic vision of life on earth.
A unique collection from one of the first women in years to rank among Russia's most important writers.
These uniformly masterful stories from Tolstaya (The Slynx) reject any attempt at easy categorization, resulting in a profound, surprising, and rich experience. Some stories, like the title work, which details a narrator named Tatyana's unhappy experience teaching creative writing to American college students in 1992 and owning a home in New Jersey with endless problems, seem straightforwardly autobiographical. Other stories, such as "The Invisible Maiden," about memories of a dacha, or "A Young Lady in Bloom," which recalls a stint delivering telegrams as a student, echo the lyricism of the Russian masters and glow with "the swanlike whiteness of the past." Others are more essayistic: "The Square" meditates on the frightening painting of the artist Kazimir Malevich; "Official Nationality" modestly distills the Russian character to three bullet points: "boldness, longanimity, and Let's hope.' " Some, such as "The Window," are surreal allegories in the manner of Gogol. While the works blend fantasy and fact, often within the same story, what unites them all is Tolstaya's singular and assured voice, capable of beautiful specificity noticing "the calm blue flower of propane" on a stove and of surveying history from above and proclaiming, matter-of-factly, that "autocracy is basically self-explanatory."