Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia

The first short story collection by award-winning author Ekaterina Sedia! One of the more resonant voices to emerge in recent years, this Russian-born author explores the edge between the mundane and fantastical in tales inspired by her homeland as well as worldwide folkloric traditions. With foreword by World Fantasy Award-winner Jeffrey Ford, Moscow But Dreaming showcases singular and lyrical writing that will appeal to fans of slipstream and magical realism, as well as those interested in the uncanny and Russian history.
Goodreads Description 

The twenty-one short stories in this stunning collection o=often focus on the outsider or displaced, whether it be the adopted Russian child, the ex-countess in Soviet Russia, the impoverished Prince of Burundi in exile in Moscow, or Hector of Greek myth with a mundane job yearning for a heroic death.  Magic realism works when there is this sort of dichotomy and in these stories it works really well. 

The stories are often infused with Russian myth and history.  In Kikimora a lesbian couple discover their true magical natures. In Tin Cans an old man working as a security guard at the Tunisian Embassy faces the ghosts of girls, sadistically raped and murdered by Stalin's henchman and KGB chief Beria. Other stories are set at the end of the October Revolution or at the Stalingrad Seige. All combine historical realism with fantasy and often violence.

Another element of alienation that we find in many of the stories is an alienation with  post-communist Russia, in which many people have seen their livelihoods and neighbourhoods decline in the face of materialism and gangsterism. In By the Liter two men absorb vodka and the memories of murdered mafia victims. 

Sedia is brilliant at taking a story in a way you don't expect it. It is virtually impossible to predict the ending even though the stories are short (about 15 pages). In addition she will often take a fictional genre and twist it: as in Zombie Lenin, in which a girl is pursued by the mummified Bolshevik leader, or in A Handsome Fellow - a take on the vampire myth (Upyr in Russian) set during the Stalingrad Seige. One of my favourite stories is The Bank of Burkina Faso which is based on this premise: what if those email scams about money frozen in overseas banks were actually true - and what if the banks only exist in dreams.

All the stories in this collection were excellent. The two that didn't work quite as well for me weren't set in either America or Russia (Ebb and Flow and Munashe and the Spirits), but that is quibbling. The author's writing is beautiful, her imagery unusual and the psychology of her characters is complex, even if she only has a few pages to draw it. 

Quite simply this is one of the best books I have read as part of my magic realism challenge.

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