October 15, 2022

The Disillusioned

The Disillusioned
Along the Oka River. IRIMEIFF

Maxim Osipov
Edited by Boris Dralyuk
New York Review Books Classics
$17.95; 296 pp.

In February 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Maxim Osipov, winner of several literary prizes, whose work has been published in at least 14 languages, emigrated to Germany. He had been living and working in Tarusa, 101 kilometers south of Moscow, and apparently the cardiologist had seen enough of Putin’s terror and treachery and its depressing effect on his fellow citizens. “There’s no hope for recovery,” reflects Osipov. “Both the professor and K. are grown men, established in their fields – both have read The Gulag Archipelago, both know about the mass executions at the Butovo Firing Range, the camp at Solovki, the Katyn massacre, yet they prefer military might...” It is clear that Osipov had foreseen his emigration’s unhappy possibility: “My concerns today are exactly the same as they were some thirty years ago: …not to miss the moment when one ought to leave, forever.”

Kilometer 101 is the second collection of his short work translated into English. There are more remarkable stories, novellas and essays than in the Russian volume of the same name (101-й Километр: Очерки из Провинциалной Жизни, St. Petersburg 2019). The writings, which span 2007 to 2022, are restrained and grimly humorous: “The life experience you gained in the Soviet Union prepared you only for life in the Soviet Union.” One of his primary topics is time rather than character. The émigré protagonist of the novella “Pieces on a Plane,” Matvey, is no darling and annoys various San Franciscans and fellow Russian emigres; the clever but disillusioned and lost young man has run away from his father’s shameful Soviet legacy (he ratted out his classmates for their mild protest poems), but one day he has to return, post-haste, to Moscow for the old man’s funeral; he finally has a maturing revelation on a dizzying stopover in Rome. In the stellar “Luxemburg,” another novella, Osipov depicts not the tiny Western European country but a village-community outside Moscow. “Cape Cod” is about a young couple visiting Boston from Soviet Russia; they eventually emigrate to Massachusetts. To their dismay, their Americanized son’s tenth birthday wish is to no longer have to speak Russian. A further dismay, confusing their financial and social success, comes when he turns eighteen and enrolls at West Point. Even in the land of opportunity, children break their parents’ hearts.

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