Thank you Jaye Viner for reviewing my book in Necessary Fiction!
For many Americans, the fall of the Soviet Union in December of 1991 has faded into history. It is of the past, removed, something that makes for good television. At most, it is an event of international importance, something that happened “over there.” This is less true for Americans who were born in the USSR such as author Olga Zilberbourg, whose first book of English-language short stories, Like Water and Other Stories, was released last fall. For Zilberbourg, 1992, the year after the fall, is a milestone year around which many of her stories revolve. It acts as an invisible undercurrent weaving through the collection.
Сборник рассказов Ольги Гренец «Хлоп-страна» (М., 2017) пересказать тем более невозможно, поскольку каждый рассказ этой американской писательницы, родившейся в Петербурге (Ленинграде), по-своему хорош и по-своему оригинален. Перескажу хотя бы один, чтобы те, кто книгу не читал, поняли, что нужно прочесть и остальные.
It just so happens that three of my friends from writing workshops are coming out with their debuts this spring. As it turns out, this spring is a very strange time to be bringing out a book into the world — coronavirus has upended most book parties and closed many bookstores. Parties are moving online in some fun, creative solutions, yet I fear that many writers and many bookstores are going to suffer for it.
All that is an aside more than a preamble to my intro of four exciting new books. I know these projects closely, from reading multiple drafts, and I cannot wait to see how they look between the covers.
The Pelton Papers by Mari Coates, is a novel from the life of Agnes Pelton, a modernist painter who died in 1961 and is only now finally finds recognition. An exhibit of her work is currently on tour around the nation, and who knows how the coronavirus will affect people’s ability to view the art. Once you read the book, though, you are going to be looking for this art in every museum out there, my promise.
Home Baked by Alia Volz. I first heard a part of this memoir ages ago, when Alia performed it at a Litquake reading. I have the image of baby Alia in a stroller as her mother pushes her down San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, peddling pot brownies that she keeps in a duffel under the stroller. She’s known as The Brownie Lady and is selling to the local business people and street acts. Later, I’ve seen several iterations of Alia’s memoir in workshop, and I can’t wait to see how the scene I fell in love with fits in with the rest.
Kept Animals by Kate Milliken. In a typical workshop, people bring in about 15-20 pages of writing for participants to discuss. For novels, this can be deadly–the format completely breaks up the flow of a novel, and participants lose track of characters and story lines from one month to the next. Commenting is a challenge, because the participant really should hold most of her questions to herself. With this novel, I remember thinking, how is today’s chapter even a part of the same book? The pieces seemed to be so different from one another, and it took me a few months to start piecing it together in my mind. I’m so ready to just dive into this book.
BONUS: A few more exciting spring books by writers I admire. Please buy them and spread the word!
I uploaded two stories from my book, Companionship and Practice a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual to YouTube as a part of Annie Kim’s Way Off-Site virtual reading event to bring together people who decided not to go to AWP20 writers conference. Missing the conference was sad, and this turned out to be a really fun exercise.
Translator and blogger Lisa C. Hayden is one of the most attentive readers of contemporary Russian literature I know. As soon as I had galleys, I sent her a copy of my book, more of a fan’s gesture than anything else. It’s wonderful to see that my book did resonate with her. As always, Lisa is an attentive and thoughtful in her analysis, and I love the company my book gets to keep on her blog–she reviewed it alongside two English-language books that sound like must-reads.
This sort of inexplicable success, often in stories that initially feel unremarkable, is one of my favorite sensations when reading. (I have a special affection for fiction that initially feels unremarkable but then finds something tranformingly transcendent.) Most of all, I don’t want to know how Olga does this. One thing I do know, though, is that she has lots of inexplicable successes in Like Water, both at capturing cultural and linguistic differences, and at capturing idiosyncrasies in ways that, taken together, not only broaden language but broaden our views of humanity.