To be young, American and in Moscow in the 1990’s
By Aaron Bronfman
Perry may be calling his book a novel, but that really is a subterfuge for the chaotic and sometimes unbelievable autobiographical stories of his life in Russia as a sometime English teacher. To anyone who lived here during that time and enjoyed life on the fringes of Russian society, immersing himself in vodka and fleeting relationships and bemusement at what can only happen in Moscow, this book strikes a happy resonating chord.
The book is in English, with a smattering of Russian phrases and published by Glas in 2001. It is a bit hard to find. My copy came from Dom Kniga on Tverskaya but your best bet of getting a copy is to e-mail: email@example.com.
From the announcement in his hometown paper in the U.S. seeking “ Native speakers to teach English in Moscow” to the final descent into drunken oblivion at a wedding the night before his departure for home some six and a half years later, this is a tour de force that captures the spirit and essence of those turbulent years. Perry’s capture of the mood of the scenes he depicts is hilarious. This is one of the few books that have caused me to laugh out loud in recent years.
From the head-on collisions with bureaucracy to the incontestable fact that the metro escalator stairs move more slowly than the hand rail belt, this is a novel that delights in the collision between Russian and American mentalities. The oh-so-familiar vignettes capture the cultural confrontations that the author meets head-on. From the endless debate over which is the richer language, English or Russian, to the attempts to define the Russian soul. It is rich with dialogue that brings the protagonists to life and reminds you of those that you have met over the years in Russia.
For old Moscow hands, this book reassures that you do remember it all, and for new Moscow residents it gives you an insight into what you may be missing in today’s more stable and predictable society. Enjoy this romp through Moscow where you drink at the battered table of a Moscow kitchen, rather than in the predictable atmosphere of a stylish foreign pub, giving shelter to the expats of today.
|Twelve Stories of Russia: a novel, I guess|
Glas Publishing, 448 pages
Confronting the past
By Julian Shuster
What do you do when you are an independent single mother of a precocious pre-schooler, and you grew up believing yourself to be of solid middle-class English stock and suddenly you discover that your aging mother is really a Russian emigre and a one time spy for the Allies during World War II?
If you are Boyd’s heroine, Ruth Gilmartin, you treat the revelation that your mother is really Eva Delectorskaya with a reaction approaching incredulity. But you tackle the task of unraveling the truth about your mother as you would a brain-teaser; applying the research and investigative skills of a detective while dealing with the distraction of an array of young English students whom you are tutoring.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing novel filled with Boyd’s intense detail and characterization, which convince you of the reality of his characters’ complex emotional lives. An accomplished, award-winning author and playwright, this is Boyd’s ninth novel, and he demonstrates his mastery of combining serious literary intent with an enviable talent for blending character, storytelling and humor.
There is a backbone of steel running through this book as the author takes us into the forbidding world of espionage, the clandestine, the manipulation of media and the convoluted sphereswithin- spheres of a spy’s life.
Boyd demonstrates true storytelling craft right through the final dénouement and leaves the reader feeling satisfied that all, or almost all, the questions have been answered.
But who is the elder Mrs. Gilmartin searching for, as she peers through her binoculars at the woods on the edge of her Oxfordshire country cottage?
By William Boyd
Bloomsbury, 325 pages, £17.99