I didn’t seek this book out. I knew nothing about it, and expected nothing. Even if I had, I never could have expected the stories here. I can obviously only speak to my experience, but each of these stories articulated sensations that I’ve never paused to give name to - sensations that I’ll probably measure my life by in the end. This collection’s common thread is that line between the everyday and the dreamlike, between “here” and “there,” which proves fluttery, illusory. The line I used to walk like a tightrope, giddy and terrified, in childhood. For someone else to resurrect this strange and lost feeling somehow lessens the inevitable, impassable distance between souls, an experience I value above all else.
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature Longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize
In this dazzling collection of stories from one of Russia’s most important writers, ordinary realities—and our yearnings to transcend them—lead to miraculous otherworlds. A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife. A man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart. A child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.
Tolstaya’s tales—rendered with the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own—transmute the quotidian into aetherial wonders. As these stories explore politics, identity, love, and loss, they cut to the quick of the Russian psyche even as they lay bare human universals. Whether contemplating the intricacies of telegram delivery in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, Tolstaya limns the stark elements of existence and our vibrant inner lives in an extraordinary vision of life on earth.
About the Author
Tatyana Tolstaya lives in Moscow. For twelve years, she was the cohost of The School for Scandal, a popular talk show on Russian television covering culture and politics. She is also the cofounder of a creative writing academy in Moscow. She has written for The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. Five of her books, including her novel The Slynx, have been translated into English.
Translated by Anya Migdal.
“Marvelously vivid. . . . Tolstaya’s vision reveals the world as a complex system of real and unreal realms . . . floodlit by flashes of transcendence.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Beautiful. . . . The best of Tolstaya’s stories trace [the] intersection of imagination and memory, where the two become something greater by not being merely one or the other.” —The New Yorker
“Resplendent. . . . Playful and poetic . . . Memory fuses with wonder, and wonder with worship.” —The Wall Street Journal “Grimly hilarious. . . . Divinely quotable. . . . Everything in this generous writer’s hands is vivid and alive.” —Joy Williams, Bookforum
“Masterful. . . . A collection of dark, funny folkloric tales.” —The Paris Review
“Call off the search for Tatyana Tolstaya’s origins among the Russian greats: There's no one like her anywhere, then or now. She is a writer of breathtaking originality, boldness and importance.” —Thomas McGuane, author of Cloudbursts
“Tolstaya’s writing is so good that it cuts through the surface directly to the universal workings of the human heart.” —BookPage
“Praised by Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky as ‘the most original, tactile, luminous voice in Russian prose,’ Tolstaya, two decades on, is all that and more in this edgy, brash, slyly surreal, and mordantly funny short story collection. . . . Tolstaya’s daring, masterful stories, crisply translated, glint and whirl with extraordinary dimension and force.” —Booklist
“These uniformly masterful stories reject any attempt at easy categorization, resulting in a profound, surprising, and rich experience. . . . While the works blend fantasy and fact, often within the same story, what unites them all is Tolstaya’s singular and assured voice, capable of beautiful specificity.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Elegant, lyrical tales woven with melancholy and world-weariness—but also with a curious optimism. A gem.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)