My grandfather was executed in Moscow in 1937, after he had been tortured into signing a false confession of being a British spy, which automatically made him an “enemy of the people”. I saw this photo of him when I was a child, and I always knew that he had been innocent. He came to me in a dream one night and told me where to go and what to do in order to bring him back to life. I went where he had told me. When I finished doing what he had instructed me to do, there he stood in front of me, tall and frail and leathery-skinned. He was significantly taller than anyone else in my family. He was also significantly weaker. When I gently turned him around, I saw a hole in the back of his head. He was afraid of sunlight, and as soon as he stood up in front of me for the first time, he made as if to hide in the darkest corner, to fall apart into pieces again, to dissolve into nothingness. I held onto him with both my hands, I wouldn’t allow him to become dust. I guided him outside, where tree branches waved, welcoming him after so many years of absence. I found a spot under a tree, maybe an oak, a big tree generous with its shade. I had my grandfather stand there, leaning on the tree, protected from sunlight and occasional passersby. I told him I had to leave him alone for a short while, hopefully no more than a few minutes, and while I’m gone, I said, he should stand there, and not attempt to go anywhere, just stand and wait until I come back with my car. You don’t know this world anymore, everything has changed, the world is dangerous. Something moved in his eyes, they filled with liquid, and I interpreted it as a yes. I kept turning back at him as I walked away, to make sure he was still standing, still flesh. My car was parked six blocks away. I ran, my speed the speed of the wind. When I got into the car, I saw that the street in front of me was blocked by traffic. The wait seemed inordinately long, ten or fifteen minutes, until a traffic policeman opened up a side street, and all the honking suddenly stopped, and I followed other cars driving in a wrong direction on a one-way street. I saw the big oak or whatever it was, that tree generous with its shade. My grandfather wasn’t there. I searched everywhere, every tree in the neighborhood, every bush, I knocked on every door. Some doors were shut in my face, some people felt pity for me, most looked at me blankly when I told them that I’d lost my grandfather. I didn’t tell them I had resurrected him from the dead. Or that he had been tortured and shot by Stalin’s henchmen over eighty years ago. If the great purge and its millions of victims are no more than a tale to most of them, then why would they care about what I say? And of course, I have no proof, except for the story I tell everyone I meet, hoping they have seen the man with a hole in the back of his head, walking like a blind man through the streets of our merciless city.
Nina Kossman’s (Нина Косман) nine books include three books of poems, two books of short stories, an anthology she edited for Oxford University Press, and a novel. Her work has been translated from English into French, Spanish, Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, Persian, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Danish, and Dutch. Her Russian work was published in Russian periodicals in and outside of Russia. She is a recipient of an NEA fellowship, UNESCO/PEN Short Story award, grants from the Onassis Foundation, and the Foundation for Hellenic Culture.
A book of poems in Russian by Victor Enyutin (San Francisco, 1983). Victor Enyutin is a Russian writer, poet, and sociologist who emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union in 1975.
This collection of personal essays by a bi-national Russian/U.S. author offers glimpses into many things Soviet and post-Soviet: the sacred, the profane, the mundane, the little-discussed and the often-overlooked. What was a Soviet school dance like? Did communists go to church? Did communists listen to Donna Summer? If you want to find out, read on!
“Cold War Casual” is a collection of transcribed oral testimony and interviews translated from Russian into English and from English into Russian that delve into the effect of the events and the government propaganda of the Cold War era on regular citizens of countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Julia Wiener was born in the USSR a few years before the Second World War; her youth was spent during the “Thaw” period, and her maturity coincided with the years of “Soviet stagnation”, which, in her case, ended with her emigration to Israel in the early 1970s. Her wartime childhood, her Komsomol-student youth, her subsequent disillusionment, her meetings with well-known writers (Andrei Platonov, Victor Nekrasov, etc.) are described in a humorous style and colorful detail. Julia brings to life colorful characters – from her Moscow communal apartment neighbors to a hippie London lord, or an Arab family, headed by a devotee of classical Russian literature. No less diverse are the landscapes against which the events unfold: the steppes of Kazakhstan, the Garden of Gethsemane, New York, Amsterdam, London.
Julia Wiener’s novels focus on those moments when illusory human existence collapses in the face of true life, be it spiritual purity, love, old age, or death.