May 01, 2019

The Shah Bird

The Shah Bird
This Stalinist Empire Style station was built in the 1930s, on the stub track in the small northern town Kirovsk. These days trains aren’t running, so the railway station is deserted and deteriorating. Mikhail Mordasov

The novel Zuleikha recounts the story of a woman sent into Siberian exile in 1930 after her husband is executed as an Enemy of the People. The story is inspired by the childhood memories of the author’s grandmother and the novel was the winner of Russia’s Big Book Award. This excerpt is from late in the novel.

Zuleikha opens her eyes. A ray of sun is pushing through shabby cotton curtains, creeping along a reddish curve on a log wall, over a flowered, coarse cotton pillow with the black tips of grouse feathers poking through, and further, toward Yuzuf’s delicate ear, rosy in the shaft of light. She extends her hand and noiselessly pulls at the curtain – her boy still has a long time to sleep. But it’s daybreak, time for her to get up.

She carefully frees her arm out from under his head, lowers her bare feet to a floor that’s cooled during the night, and places a scarf on her pillow so when her son decides to wake up, he’ll stretch, nestle his face into her scent, and sleep a little longer. Without looking, she takes her jacket, bag, and rifle from their nail. She pushes the door – the babbling of birds and the racket of the wind burst in – and noiselessly slips out. In the hallway, she puts on simple leather shoes that Granny Yanipa crafted from elk skin, quickly braids her hair, and then it’s onward, into the urman.

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