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Publisher's Summary

From one of modern Russia's finest writers, a spellbinding collection of 18 stories, her first to be translated into English in more than 20 years.

Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories. A woman's deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window. With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives.

These tales, about politics, identity, love, and loss, cut to the core of the Russian psyche, even as they lay bare human universals. Tolstaya's characters - seekers all - are daydreaming children, lonely adults, dislocated foreigners in unfamiliar lands. Whether contemplating the strategic complexities of delivering telegrams in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, vibrant inner lives and the grim elements of existence are registered in equally sharp detail in a starkly bleak but sympathetic vision of life on Earth.

A unique collection from one of the first women in years to rank among Russia's most important writers.

©2018 Tatyana Tolstaya (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Grimly hilarious.... Everything in this generous writer’s hands is vivid and alive.... Tolstaya is divinely quotable - slangy, indignant, lyrical, crude.... It’s all sublime...the swerve and cackle, the breeziness and dark depths...the torrents of language and the offhand perfect touch.... She has been compared to Chekhov. Absurd...Tolstaya barrels by him and knocks him in the ditch." (Joy Williams, Bookforum)

"Praised by...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.... Historical figures Leo Tolstoy, Kazimir Malevich, and Emanuel Swedenborg appear, as do ghosts and angels and characters spellbound by nature’s beauty only to be abruptly slapped back to reality as Tolstaya contrasts family troubles, poverty, lies, and tyranny with the 'aetherial worlds' of love, dreams, memories, and myths. 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. Some stories...echo the lyricism of the Russian masters.... Others are more essayistic.... Some, such as 'The Window,' are surreal allegories in the manner of Gogol. 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...and of surveying history from above and proclaiming, matter-of-factly, that 'autocracy is basically self-explanatory.'" (Publishers Weekly)

"A poet of silences and small gestures, Tolstaya often writes of love, if sometimes love that has gone off the rails.... Elegant, lyrical tales woven with melancholy and world-weariness - but also with a curious optimism. A gem." (Kirkus)

"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 Crow Fair)

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