Review: Olga Zilberbourg’s English-Language Debut, “Like Water and Other Stories”

My deep gratitude to Yelena Furman for this review at the NYC Jordan Center’s blog:

In addition to its experiments with style, this collection offers new possibilities for telling immigrant stories, particularly those of women. With some exceptions, such as Vapnyar’s Memoirs of a Muse and Ulinich’s Petropolis, and despite the preponderance of female writers and protagonists, Russian-American fiction does not focus on gender, and occasionally exhibits elements of “traditional” thinking on the subject. In contrast, Zilberbourg offers a feminist exploration of the straightjacket of gender clichés in pieces like “My Sister’s Game,” which details the enraged attempts by the narrator’s older sister to head off male romantic interest during a tennis match. As the narrator puts it, “It took me many years and a lot of learning […] to understand that moment as my first realization of Zoika’s refusal to conform to the norms of her gender.” This statement illustrates the narrator’s own understanding of the perniciousness of these norms, even as the story leaves open the question of whether her sister is able to thwart them.

http://jordanrussiacenter.org/news/review-olga-zilberbourgs-english-language-debut-like-water-and-other-stories/

Review of Like Water

I love that this reviewer pointed out “Ada.” It’s an important story for me, and I deeply care for the character, but I never did find a home for it in a lit mag. It’s so great to see Ada hold her own in the collection.

“My favorite story, “Ada at Twelve and a Half,” felt of these the most utterly specific and intensely imagined, the kind of story that reads not like a fiction but a detailed reporting of an actual event, the log of an inner life. It’s about a little girl who wishes she didn’t have to go to school–who wants so much to walk past it to anywhere, anything must be better than this, she wants so much to be someone, somewhere different–but she ends up in her classroom “where she will sit, trying, and failing, to accept the ordinary.”

Barrelhouse Reviews: Like Water by Olga Zilberbourg

Like Water contains 52 stories of varying length. Stories should be enjoyed one per sitting, with time to savor after each. Many of them contain layered perspectives, and Zilberbourg focuses particularly on communication in its moment of breakdown. Those moments benefit from unfolding time. “Rubicon” opens the collection, setting the pace–fast, active reading time with extended mental work–and a magical vibe. Characters experience time slips and revisit decisions that mark moments of no return. 

Read the rest of this review by Alissa Gillon on Barrelhouse Magazine.

Review of LIKE WATER in the Moscow Times

I’m tremendously grateful to writer Anna Kasradze and editor Michele Berdy of The Moscow Times for publishing a thoughtful review of my upcoming English-language debut.

The thread connecting these tales is each protagonist’s attempt to come to terms with an identity that is always in flux, transitioning between various contexts such as emigration, motherhood, partnership, and employment. For this reason, bicultural readers of varied backgrounds will likely hear their own experiences resonating with this collection. Together, the 52 stories of “Like Water and Other Stories” offer shards of spacetime and leave the reader to piece them together. This format consistently frustrates the reader’s search for one big takeaway or one favorite character, but it allows the reader to experience alongside the characters their struggle for takeaways and coherent selves. <…>

Read the whole piece here.

Book Events

The publication date for my debut English-language book LIKE WATER AND OTHER STORIES is approaching on September 5. If you are in the Bay Area, please come to the book party on September 12, 7 pm at Studio 333, Sausalito, CA. We will be celebrating my book together with Anita Felicelli’s novel CHIMERICA. Peg Alford Pursell, our publisher and the author of A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, will host the event that will include a reading, a conversation, wine and cake.

I’m particularly delighted that, as a part of my book tour, I’ll be able to return to Rochester, New York, where I first landed when I came to the US in 1996. I look forward to visiting RIT and catching up with old friends as a part of this adventure. My Rochester event is scheduled for November 9th, 7:30 pm at Java’s in downtown Rochester — more information about that soon.

Below are two more upcoming Bay Area readings. More events are in the works, and I will update you as the book tour comes together!

On October 5 at 7 pm, I will be in conversation with Nancy Au, author of SPIDER LOVE SONG AND OTHER STORIES, at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore, Oakland, CA

On October 7 at 7 pm, I will participate in Odd Mondays reading series at Folio Books, San Francisco, CA

Thank you for all of you who have pre-ordered my book — you should be receiving it soon. If you’d like to pre-order your copy of LIKE WATER AND OTHER STORIES, you can do it here.

My Review of Akram Aylisli’s Farewell, Aylis

Here’s a new review I wrote for The Common of a remarkable book that comes to us from Azerbaijan, published thanks to the advocacy of its translator, Katherine E. Young,

Contemporary books emerging from post-Soviet countries often deal with the dehumanizing effect of the region’s systems of government on its victims, seeking to trace and partially redeem the psychological and physical harm many have suffered. For understandable reasons, few authors care to look at the perpetrators, at the people who committed murders and mass murders, informed on and denounced their neighbors. Yet, in the post-Soviet reality, often it’s these people and their descendants who have risen to the top, taken charge of the new nation states, and written their laws.

It is in this context that Akram Aylisli, in post-Soviet Azerbaijan, gathers together the three novellas and closing essay that comprise his “non-traditional novel,” Farewell, Aylis. Born in 1937, Aylisli achieved fame in the Soviet Union for his earlier trilogy People and Trees. Though pieces of this new, remarkable book have appeared in Russia, the collected Farewell, Aylis, published as a result of the efforts of his American translator, Katherine E. Young, does not yet exist in any other language.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

“To Understand Russia’s Complexities, Turn to Its Contemporary Literature”

Epiphany published a blog post I wrote, highlighting three fascinating recent translations from Russian.

A FRIEND’S TEN-YEAR-OLD SON son recently came up to me at a party to ask, “You’re from Russia, right?” Sensing caution in my assent, the boy hesitated before asking the next question, clearly trying to phrase it in a way that wouldn’t cause offense but would express his curiosity. He finally came up with, “It’s a very violent place, isn’t it?”

Whenever I’m asked to summarize the entire country of Russia at a party, I invariably recall a scene from a popular Soviet movie…

Click here to read the piece.