Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko

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“Every fear has its volume and weight…”

The women and girls in this collection of stories face hardships that are common to all women the world over and other tragedies that test their courage beyond boundaries some of us will never know. War is brutal, and sometimes women are a debt to be paid. Women choosing between actualized children and the unborn, suffer through interrogations by the KGB, how a mother’s phantoms can be visited upon the daughter. Reach further back still into the family history of ‘the camps’, the misery still chasing them.

In Girls, a grand and severe passion for another, “Like a dormant gene of an inherited disease”. Darka divulges of her first love, sexual awakening with another student named Effie, a desire that gets swept away in dishonor and maybe something more dangerous, an informer in their midst? A lesson in betrayal, out of jealousy, desire to possess. The scandal that unfolded Darka only finds out much later, and how girls are so easily ‘dishonored by the obscene’. For Darka, Effie always remains a longing for another life, another self, even long after who we were so long ago is no longer remembered clearly. Could the worst sort of ruin be conquered in the future?

One of my favorites is The Tale of the Guelder Rose Flute, about a girl Olenka, born to good fortune. The firstborn is destined to become a princess, a queen, never could she be a common peasant. The second born intent on torturing the first, and so the rivalry begins, and intensifies when little Hannusia blooms herself. Gifted with skills of her own, jealousy to rival Cain and Abel consume the sisters. Is it the parents, the all seeing eyes of the village, the man come to court, or the matchmakers that birth such disharmony? Liberation in sin, ignorance in not heeding advice, women damned.

In I, Milena the surface hides everything, and all is not fine. Milena is a journalist of the finest sort, and she is in competition with herself for her husband’s affections. He is hungry for the Milena that is broadcast on TV, but there is a huge division between the onscreen and offscreen woman. Is she losing her mind?

Grannies who are made of sterner stuff, young men losing limbs, pasts mothers would rather bury,  daughters who don’t speak the same language as their experienced, hardened mothers, Russian bullets, barriers, national patriotism, and the rest of the world watching from the sidelines. Despite what happens in a country, the home and family is still it’s own battleground and sanctuary. War presses each of these characters between the pages of a photo-album, even war within themselves.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020

AmazonCrossing

 

 

 

 

 

Good Citizens Need Not Fear: Stories by Maria Reva

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Many people claim that they like certainty, but I do not believe this is true- it is uncertainty that gives freedom of the mind.

Maria Reva’s collection of linked stories revolves around a “crumbling” apartment building on Ivansk Street in Ukraine before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the very first story Novostroïka, Daniil has the task of informing the people at the town council hall that the very building he occupies is without heat only to be told it doesn’t exist, according to the documentation. Tell that to the fourteen occupants in his suite alone, tolerating each other, stuffed in and happy just to have a place to “lie in peace”. Ah yes, a mistake, surely some human mistake- they will fix the problem soon… Poor Daniil, now work is a hassle, then it’s stuffing more food into fewer cans. Stuff…stuff.. stuff. Can living people be accused of not existing? Do they have documents to prove their building is real? Well?

Babies in Little Rabbit are themselves born natural disasters, but Zaya “little rabbit” is something altogether special among the unwanted and unhealthy children. Sanitrkas the closest thing to a mother the little ones have. Children lie sick with fevered dreams as holes are dug in the ground for the unlucky, but what about Zaya? What will become of this particular poor little orphan?

In Letter of Apology a celebrated poet has said more than he is allowed against leaders of the Communist Party and Soviet Society. The task of reeducating him falls to Mikhail Ivanovich. But soon, it is the poet’s wife Milena, who unnerves him, following Mikhail with a far ‘greater vigilance’ than his own. He just might find himself haunted by uncertainty.

My favorite story, a little piece of fascinating, strange Soviet history is about music and just how ingenious people were getting their hands on forbidden rock records. Smnea, a ‘simple pensioner’ finds a peculiar way to survive, safe only behind the secure walls of her apartment in the tale Bone Music (a hell of a fitting title, might I add). What’s a friend, what’s an enemy? This story has a sharp edge, it eviscerates the heart. The history about music records is true and well worth looking up after you finish this clever, excellent book.

Miss USSR  is like all things American, counterculture, and just the thing the people need. All madness ensues when the girl meant to win, Orynko, is gone… to maybe Siberia, if you believe that. What is Konstantyn to do? What does a tiny deception, a little switcheroo really matter? Will things go according to planned?

In Lucky Toss a saint, mysteriously owned by Konstantyn Illych, is watched over by a guard. A saint rumored to have healing powers! Is this guard up to the task? Will it cost him his teeth?

A strange inheritance in Roach Brooch may or may not be something of great value, for the grandparents of the deceased.

The Ermine Coat serves to occupy a young girl’s aunt and mother, tirelessly sewing coats to be sold on the black market. With a turn of fate in their favor, a forgeign buyer wants something special to spoil his cherished little girl with. There is a plan in the works, and we all know what happens with the best laid plans…

In the final story, Homecoming, a special orphan returns to her origins to see what can be made of the ruins of her childhood. Maybe a chance to add yet another travel package for millionaires to ‘live in fear’… it’d be surreal if it didn’t seem like a possibility. The ending is sweet, strange and I absolutely loved it. What a collection! There is dark humor in dire circumstances, and even in the fog of their most crushing defeats, the characters pick themselves up and get on with things.  I can’t wait to read more by Reva, I was blown away.

Publication Date: March 10, 2020

Doubleday Books