Mar/Apr 2017 Current Moscow Time: 02:06:22
24 March 2017


  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera (“Faith” in Russian) from the steppes of Central Asia to a remote, forest-bound community of Estonians, to the chaos of Moscow.

Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration. Vera gains the nickname “fish” from her abusive husband, who feels she is cold and unfeeling. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Vera in fact discovers she has a powerful gift to alleviate the suffering of others, while she can do little to fend off the adversity that buffets her own life.

Aleshkovsky’s work is remarkable for his commitment to the realistic novel tradition, creating an expansive, gripping, often controversial story about the intimate fallout of imperial collapse. Indeed, Fish is the first Russian novel to grapple with post-Soviet colonial “otherness” without transposing it into a fantastic, post-apocalyptic realm or reducing it to black-and-white conflicts of the popular detective genres.

Stylistically, Aleshkovsky’s prose most closely resembles the work of Vassily Aksyonov or Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, with its mastery of evocative detail and mystical undercurrents. The male author’s choice of a first-person, female narrator (extremely rare in Russia) makes Fish all the more significant.

 


Reader Reviews

"I read books by Russian authors all the time, but I was surprised at how much this novel grabbed me. Aleshkovsky chose to write it from the point of view of a woman, and the heroine's voice is quite persuasive... The story has a fair amount of suspense and a few intriguing romances. I kept picking it up to read more, curious to see what would happen next. It's moving in its personal interest, how this human being lives through the story, and informative in the details it gives about Russian history and society. The translator did a great job with this book: it never feels like a translation, even though it shifts from lyrical passages to very spare recounting of events. The slang or obscene words fit right in where they should. The variety and interest of the language really underline the down-to-earth character of the heroine, since everything is told through her observation or recollection of events, or her interpretation of what they mean. I'll be looking for more of this translator's work as well!" {RussProf / Amazon}

"This is a very well-written book which opened up my eyes to an area of the world I was unfamiliar with. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in anything Russian, the Far East, or women's issues. A sad tale." {Pisatel / Amazon}

"This book starts slow, and in the beginning, it feels a little dry. But stick with it, because it is amazing. This woman is about my age, but she has lived many more lifetimes than I have. I read this book with her history going along the timeline of Russia's growing pains just as this country is going through its "bacchanalia of avarice," during the Christmas season of buying. I couldn't help but compare and contrast along the way. Vera is a strong woman, but even steel has to be able to bend in a storm so it won't break. I am not nearly as strong as this woman, but I could identify with her. Powerful, powerful book." {Linda / Amazon}

"This is a very interesting peek into a culture and mindset completely different than the typical Western idea. It reasonates individually because the "heroine" is a nobody, she could easily have been me or you. Even though she's a "nobody", her story is gripping, intense, definitely not a normal everyday book. The translation from the original language must have been difficult, but it is very well done, easily readable in English. This book is not for a young audience, I would say mature only, due to descriptions of events in her life. The feeling I get is that if this were a movie, it would be black and white, but not romantic or over dramatic. This is a realist's book, in a dark way. Not for Pollyanna, "happy sunshine only" lovers. Read this to experience a different culture, and enjoy the literary art for itself." {Jbest / Amazon}


About the Author

Author Peter Aleshkovsky was born in 1957 and graduated some two decades later from Moscow State University. He worked for several years as an archaeologist in Central Asia and as a historical preservationist in the Russian North before turning full-time to literature in the mid-1990s.

He attained literary success with his collection of stories Stargorod, followed by his novels Seagull, Skunk: A Life (translated into English by Glas), Vladimir Chigrintsev and, most recently, The Institute of Dreams.

Aleshkovsky's style is decidedly in the realistic tradition, but that does not stop him from investigating the mystical and miraculous in everyday life. His works are richly descriptive and evocative of the uniquely Russian worldview, while at the same time tapping into universal human emotions and experiences. He has three times been short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize, most recently for his novel Fish.

About the Translator

Nina Shevchuk-Murray. Born and raised in the western Ukrainian city of L'viv, Shevchuk-Murray holds degrees in English linguistics and Creative Writing. She translates both poetry and prose from the Russian and Ukrainian languages. Her translations and original poetry have been published in a number of literary magazines, including Chtenia. With Ladette Randolph, she co-edited the anthology of Nebraska non-fiction, The Big Empty (University of Nebraska Press, 2007).