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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Vladimir's Mustache

Set against the backdrop of Russian history from the time of Peter the Great to the years of the post-Soviet collapse, the nine stories in Vladimir's Mustache — familiar to readers of Ninth Letter, Cincinnati Review, Witness and Salt Hill — represent a rare feat of ventriloquism and range.

From an Italian castrato who longs to sing for the tsar, to a method actor who learns the danger of losing himself in a role after he is cast as Hitler, to the men and women who meet through “mail order bride agencies, all of Stephan Eirik Clark’s stories are told with a humor that’s never far removed from an underlying sadness.

Regardless of his where he situates his attention, Clark writes with a voice that never falters, telling with great emotional honesty the story of men and women who are trapped by circumstances, alienated by history, or irrevocably estranged from the culture at large.

  • Hear an interview Stephan gave about his book to Voice of Russia (in English). It is fascinating to hear the backstories for the pieces in this collection.

Professional Reviews


“Elegant, classic stories that sift through history and paint a luminous portrait of an enduring cast of Russian characters.  Clark is marvelously protean here, engaging multiple personalities and points of view, and his cold eye and ready wit shine through brilliantly.”



“All Hail Stephan Clark! With terrific gusto, insight, and compassion, Clark's first book of short stories brilliantly illuminates the lives of men and women trapped in Russian history and the muddled post-Soviet present. Vladimir's Mustache is a solid achievement, as well as a beguiling introduction to a new literary talent."

– Ken Kalfus



Vladimir’s Mustache is a thrilling discovery: dark, elegant fables that dissect the Russian soul, in a style that feels timeless yet utterly fresh. I read each story with a delicious sense of anticipation and dread. Stephan Clark is a marvelous writer, and a tender chronicler of the doomed.”

– Karl Iagnemma



“The best comedy inherits some threads of tragedy, and vice versa. Tightrope-walking, Clark agilely suspends the tension between the two that makes us reel; feeling that we have glimpsed the unmasked face of nature as it actually is. ”

– Audrey Schomer, KGB Bar & Lit Journal



“Stephan Clark's very fine story collection is a tour de force of historical imagination. Clark clearly knows the territory, and he brings it to life with an inventiveness and artistry that few writers can match. These wry, wonderful, often revelatory stories mark the debut of a truly gifted writer, and I look forward to reading more books by Stephan Clark.”

– Ben Fountain, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara



“Russia is painted as harsh, unstable, and unpredictable, with tragedy coming swiftly to the naive, the unwary, and the arrogant. Exceptional stories involve an Italian castrato who hoodwinks Peter the Great (“The Castrato of St. Petersburg”), an angry American addicted to “romance tours” of the Ukraine (“Humbert Humbert Does Ukraine”), and an actor whose juiciest role becomes his downfall (“Vladimir’s Mustache”).”

— Booklist



“Stephan Clark’s fiction is serious and funny at the same time, joke followed by intrigue, intrigue followed by insight, and a reader’s dream fulfilled. Go get this book before the knock comes.”

– Rusty Barnes, Co-Founder and Editor, Night Train Magazine



“Stephan Clark is a writer of uncommon honesty. In an era when contemporary writing seems to skirt its penance with shallow wit and embellished description, Mr. Clark strips naked the soul, exposing it for all its brutal sentimentality. His is writing that makes the boat man weep. For that, and that alone, should any writer be allowed to cross the river.” 

– Brett Finlayson, Editor, Salt Hill Literary Journal



“Stephan Clark's stories span centuries and social classes, exploring Russian history in heartbreaking, breathtaking detail. Each tale in this marvelous collection combines an Old World gravitas with a contemporary edge, giving us characters that resonate as completely of their time, yet as familiar as our own friends and neighbors. You will find yourself lost, totally immersed in these stories – an experience you don't want to miss.”

– Jodee Stanley, Editor, Ninth Letter



“Stephan Clark approaches his far-gone subjects with an uncanny contemporary immediacy, an empathy that shrugs off centuries and miles, and a total lack of fear. We should all of us, readers and writers, be that unafraid.”

– Alexander Yates, author of Moondogs



“On the whole, Clark is a laconic stylist, pithy and to the point, and his greatest strength is the dark humor present throughout the book, as though his is a world where one can only cope with the reality of everyday life by building up a sardonic chainmail that tries to out-absurd the absurd…."The Castrato of St. Petersburg" shows Clark at his finest… an absurdist narrative that would give even the best of Gogol a run for its money… It is a bravura performance for Clark and is perhaps the soul of the collection, where both the comedy and the absurdity are at their height… From beginning to end it is clear that Clark is an intelligent writer, perhaps only outdone at times by the tasks he takes on, but this is a minor concern, and on the whole Vladimir's Mustache is a solidly crafted book, Russia on a smaller scale and offered in a portion perfect for a brisk reminder that history is not as far removed as we sometimes may think it to be.”

– Adam GallariThe Collagist



"Clark is an excellent story teller. He gives insight into nations and generations with plot and dialogue rather than opinionated narration. You read a story about some workaday character, and you come away with big questions and frightening implications."

– Timothy FountainStand Firm



“In each story, Clark offers an intimate glimpse at the lives and feelings of his characters... an enjoyable read that I would recommend.”

– Cynthia Parkhill, Lake County Record-Bee


Reader Reviews

Author Stephen Eirik Clark has drawn from Russian history and his own experience to produce a lovely volume of 9 short stories probing the Russian soul and the fascination it holds for the West. Dark humor abounds, alongside resilience and resignation, even when dealing with the horrific excesses of the Stalinist era... A very pleasant one or two evening read. Recommended. {Amazon}

Clark takes the Russian short story style, with its ne'er-do-wells and antiheroes, its propensity for tragedy and fatalism, along with occasional flights of whimsy, into the historical period defined by Stalinism. Stories take place in the advent of the horrid system, during its terrifying heyday, and in the chaotic aftermath that still unfolds today.... Clark is an excellent story teller. He gives insight into nations and generations with plot and dialogue rather than opinionated narration. You read a story about some workaday character, and you come away with big questions and frightening implications. {T. Fountain / Amazon}

I very much enjoyed reading this short story collection. It is full of well written scenes and poignant observations that will capture the interest of any short story lover out there. What makes the collection so interesting, is that, although the stories are varied, there is a nice sense of interconnection, making a cohesive book. The writing is simple, clear, and it gets out of the way so that the plot can come through. The author is obviously someone with a good sense of pacing. This is incredibly important in short stories, so it's always a pleasure to read an entire collection that moves this smoothly. I can definitely recommend this book to all lovers of literary fiction and short stories. It makes for a very entertaining read. {Valentina Cano / Amazon}

This short collection is wonderful. The only drawback I can begin to pinpoint is length; I could have read on for ages. With nuanced stories that span a century or more, Clark offers the depth and flavor of Chekhov with contemporary insight and Western input... The stories are smart, finely-drawn, engaging, with a balance of dark and light. I thoroughly enjoyed this fine little gem and will look for more from this author in future. I would recommend this to anyone, especially when looking for something with a bit of substance. {Waven / Goodreads}

First, I have complete and utter cover love here! Second, my brother is a huge history buff and especially loves Russia and Germany. I'd love to read this book and then be able to pass it on to him! {Amy / Goodreads}

These are marvellous stories, each different from the other, beautifully written and well worth reading. {Elaine Magalis / Goodreads}

About the Author

Stephan Eirik Clark’s short stories and essays have appeared in more than twenty literary magazines, including Ninth Letter, Witness, The Cincinnati Review, and LA Weekly, and been short-listed for the Fish Publishing Historical Fiction Prize and recognized in Best American Essays 2009 and 2010, among other honors. Born in West Germany and raised between England and the United States, Clark holds a Master’s degree in English Literature with a creative writing emphasis from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. A former print and radio journalist, he has lived in Russia and Ukraine, the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship. He is presently living and teaching in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His blog is here.