Posts Tagged ‘  Contemporary Russian Fiction’

I always wondered how contemporary Russian fiction looked like, because when discussing Russian literature, readers always talk about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Chekhov and Turgenev and Pushkin and other 19th century greats – writers who are affectionately called the ‘Dead Russians’ now. Sometimes readers talk about writers who can be termed as ‘dissident writers’ – writers who resisted the Soviet regime and whose books were banned in the Soviet Union – writers like Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova, Shalamov, Zamyatin. But contemporary writers are rarely mentioned. Russians, of course, still read today. Their love for books is legendary. I am sure there are still Russian writers who write books for these readers, books set in contemporary Russia, which talk about how today’s Russians live their lives, how they fall in love, what kind of work they do, how they respond to political developments, the relationship between Russian parents and their children, these and other contemporary themes which are relevant today. I wondered who these writers were and how I could get their books. Then I discovered ‘Rasskazy : New Fiction from a New Russia‘. I was thrilled.

Rasskazy‘ has 22 stories. Each of these stories is by a different writer. So that is 22 new writers – whoohoo! Some of these stories are a few pages long, many of them are around 10 pages long, some of them are even longer. The longest has 43 pages.

Now a little about my reading experience. I got this book a long time back. I read the first 100 pages of the book at that time, but then got distracted. When I started reading the book again now, I remembered liking the first hundred pages, though I couldn’t remember the stories. I decided to read the book differently this time. I decided to read the last one-third first, followed by the middle one-third and then the first one-third. When I started reading the last one-third, a strange thing happened. I read one story and then the next and then a third. Nothing much happened. I went on and read five stories and still there was nothing. I was expecting moving stories and profound passages, but, unfortunately, it was hard reading. It was like I could understand every word in the story, but couldn’t get the story. I wondered what was happening. I wondered whether I should continue reading the book. I felt like I was hemmed in at the top of the mountain with nowhere to go. Then Natalya Klyuchareva arrived like the legendary Tolkien eagle, picked me up and soared high into the sky. She delivered a beautiful, stunning masterpiece called ‘One Year in Paradise‘. That was the end of the book as I knew it. This transformed new book was a different being, an amazing thing. I screamed with joy. It was one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read.

Things got better after that. I read the middle one-third and then the first one-third, and discovered other beautiful stories I liked.

Here are some of my favourite stories from the book and what I think about them.

(1) One Year in Paradise by Natalya Klyuchareva – This is my most favourite story from the book. It was the last story featured in the book. In this story, a man moves from the city to the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, and decides to live there. He just has a bag filled with books. What happens to him is the rest of the story. Such a quintessential Russian story, such a beautiful one. If you would like to read it, you can find it here.

(2) A Potential Customer by Ilya Kochergin – A young man who works as a hunter and a trapper in the Russian Far East, goes back to Moscow for a month. He goes to deliver a package to his friend’s aunt and there he meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. What happens after that is the rest of the story.

(3) History by Roman Senchin – A history scholar visits a bookshop, buys a book and is walking to the metro station to get back home. There is a political protest happening in front of the metro station and somehow our scholar gets trapped in the middle of that. And then bad things start happening. An insightful commentary on the situation in Russia today.

(4) The Diesel Stop by Arkady Babchenko – A young soldier goes home on leave to attend his father’s funeral. He comes back late to report for duty. The army establishment assumes that he was trying to desert. He is arrested. The strange, crazy things that happen to him form the rest of the story. This was the longest story in the book.

(5) The Killer and his Little Friend by Zakhar Prilepin – Describes the friendship between two soldiers in the army, one who is a giant, and another who is small. Makes us think of George and Lennie from John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.

(6) D.O.B. by Aleksander Snegirev – A young man goes through a series of adventures on his birthday, getting into trouble, one after the other.

(7) Why the Sky Doesn’t Fall by German Sadulaev – a story set in Chechnya during the war, mostly told from the Chechnyan perspective.

(8) Have Mercy, Your Majesty Fish by Olga Zondberg – describes the life of a blogger.

(9) Bregovich’s Sixth Journey by Oleg Zobern – describes the friendship between a man and his neighbour’s dog, whom he calls Ivan Denisovich.

(10) Russian Halloween by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov – a man moves from the middle of the city to the outskirts after his divorce. He is depressed because he misses the city. But then strange, surprisingly pleasant things happen to him, unexpectedly.

(11) Spit by Kirill Ryabov – a man who is committed to an institution gets released after he is cured of his illness. How he navigates the wild world outside is the rest of the story.

(12) Drill and Song Day by Vladimir Kozlov – the story of the friendship between three boys in school who are outsiders in different ways.

I enjoyed reading ‘Rasskazy‘. It was wonderful to discover so many new contemporary Russian writers in one place. I am especially happy to have discovered Natalya Klyuchareva. I can’t wait to read more stories by her and by the others.

Have you read ‘Rasskazy‘? What do you think about it? Would you like to recommend some of your favourite contemporary Russian writers?

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