A poignant collection of short pieces about the author's hometown, St. Petersburg, Russia, and the siege of Leningrad that combines memoir, history, and fiction.
Living Pictures refers to the parlor game of tableaux vivants, in which people dress up in costume to bring scenes from history back to life. It’s a game about survival, in a sense, and what it means to be a survivor is the question that Polina Barskova explores in the scintillating literary amalgam of Living Pictures. Barskova, one of the most admired and controversial figures in a new generation of Russian writers, first made her name as a poet; she is also known as a scholar of the catastrophic siege of Leningrad in World War II. In Living Pictures, Barskova writes with caustic humor and wild invention about traumas past and present, historical and autobiographical, exploring how we cope with experiences that defy comprehension. She writes about her relationships with her adoptive father and her birth father; about sex, wanted and unwanted; about the death of a lover; about Turner and Picasso; and, in the final piece, she mines the historical record in a chamber drama about two lovers sheltering in the Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad who slowly, operatically, hopelessly, stage their own deaths.
Living Pictures introduces a startlingly daring and original new voice from world literature.
Poet Barskova (This Lamentable City) delivers a haunting and magnificent debut fiction collection rooted in Leningrad. Drawing on her own experiences as a Leningrad-born immigrant and secret diaries and journals kept by Leningraders, she juxtaposes their memories with suppositions about them, memorializing the WWII siege of the city and its aftermath in emotionally acute prose. "The Forgiver" focuses on Dmitry Maximov, a literature professor whose poems could only be published abroad, while "Hair Sticks" features Marina Malich, wife of the writer Daniil Kharms, who fled the U.S.S.R. for Germany and Venezuela after the Leningrad blockade. Interspersed with these partly historical, partly imagined accounts of the blockade's survivors are stories of Barskova's own Leningrad childhood, painful love affairs, and adulthood in the U.S. "A Gallery" narrates a naturalization ceremony in Lowell, Mass., and "Dona Flor and Her Grandmother" profiles a grandmother who tried to teach the narrator "the secrets of ruling the feckless male heart," not knowing that the boyfriend Barskova was mourning hadn't left her but was killed in a car accident. This beautiful attempt to reconstruct the lives of the lost, blended with an account of a new life built from the rubble, deserves a wide readership.