If you’re curious about contemporary Russian literature, but don’t know where to look or what authors to read, “Life Stories” is a good place to start. It’s a collection of short stories and novellas by big names in contemporary Russian literature–Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Zahar Prilepin, Vladimir Makanin, Dina Rubina–and less-known but still worthy authors, as well as celebrity cameos by Boris Grebenshchikov and Eduard Limonov.
Western readers will probably find some aspects of the stories strange and unfamiliar, and I’m not talking about those super-scary Russian names. There’s a lot of absurdism and bizarre, surreal writing here, as well as different cultural sensibilities. There’s not a lot of gore here, but there is some pretty brutal social violence. One of the most striking things about modern Russian literature is the depiction of women. While nineteenth-century Russian authors often depicted complex but sympathetic young women (Tatyana Larina, Aglaya Yepanchina, Anna Karenina), and Soviet writers often depicted bold and sympathetic heroines, many modern male Russian authors seem to be lashing out at society by lashing out, subtly or not so subtly, at their female characters. There’s something Gogolian about it, but not necessarily attractive.
That being said, there are some real standout works here, by male as well as female authors. “Grandmother, Wasps, Watermelon” by Zahar Prilepin is particularly worth reading, as is “Fog” by Dina Rubina. There’s enough variety here for readers of various stripes to find something they’ll enjoy, as well as giving readers a taste of lots of different aspects of contemporary Russian letters.
Get it here on Amazon.