Francesc Serés - an anthology of non-existent Russian writers translated into Catalan. Drift through outer space with a doomed cosmonaut whose engine is 'kaput!'; return to an irradiated village with an elderly couple who want to go home; ask yourself, did Elvis really play a concert in Red Square?
Francesc Serés, Russian Stories, Trans. by Anastasia Maximova and Peter Bush, MacLehose Press, 2013.
read it at Google Books
Drift through outer space with a doomed cosmonaut whose engine is 'kaput!'; return to an irradiated village with an elderly couple who want to go home; ask yourself, did Elvis really play a concert in Red Square? Twenty-one impish and irrepressible stories by five neglected or forgotten Russian writers. Fresh-faced vignettes from modern St Petersburg; hair-raising tales of state insanity, snatched from the Soviet archives; dark fables from the days of serfdom, when the land was untamed and life was brutish and short. Each mines a discrete facet of Russian life, history or culture, and taken as a whole they sketch a historical arc from the nineteenth century to the age of the budget airline, offering the reader a unique combination of daring, wit, dash and charm.
Short Russian stories that could have been written at that time by a Russian writer. But have they been?
The author of these Russian Stories states: "Everything that happens in these stories strives to give shape to the history of a land and a country that could be imaginary. After all, might not the history of Russia over the last century and a half be thought of as a huge fable? With sagas of inconceivable magnitude, the country itself is so big that it hardly seems possible that it could exist..." These short stories cover a period extended from the XIX century, through to the era of low-cost airlines, from recreating traditional folk tales to portraying Russia’s difficult relationship in the twenty-first century. The stories speak of Russia from within Russia, far from trends that seek to turn this place into a no-place, or to dilute the individual and people as a whole in liquid societies.
It took me a while to work out what I was reading. This book claims to be a collection of forgotten Russian short stories “edited” by Serés, a Catalan writer, and translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush, and from the Russian by Anastasia Maximova — but Anastasia doesn’t exist. The press release helpfully sets it out for slow-witted reviewers: “A glorious collection of ‘Russian’ short stories that feel almost more authentic than the real thing.” So, to be clear, what we have is a collection of pastiche “Russian” short stories, written in Catalan by Serés and put into English by Bush. Anastasia is fictional and no genuine Russians were involved. The stories work back over a century of turbulent Russian history, from a worker at… - Kate Saunders
Russian Stories is a collection of twenty-one short stories supposedly written by authors who, according to Francesc Serés, “are some of the best-known writers of contemporary literature today.” Certainly the journey these tales have taken—from Russian to Catalan (translated by Anastasia Maximova, a figment of Serés’s imagination or of his devilish wit), from Catalan to English (translated by Peter Bush, who appears to be a “real” person), to this edited anthology—represents many of the actual tales themselves, which narrate the journeys taken by the Russian characters depicted within them. In a 2011 interview with Marta Rebón, Serés stated: “Pensé siempre en mí, cuando escribía los cuentos” (I only thought about myself when I was writing the stories), which appears to point to Serés as the author of the Catalan stories later translated by Bush. The reasons for his deception are not, however, clear.
In the twenty-one stories, the author(s) express the belief that all human beings are alike, no matter where we come from nor where our journeys take us. I have to agree with him. This short-story anthology differs in the “strangeness” of the characters’ names and loci but not in the nature of their interchangeable lives.
The anthology is organized from the most recent writings backward to earlier ones from the invented Ola Yevgueniyeva, fictitiously born as recently as 1967, to the equally nonexistent Jossef Bergchenko, whose fictitious date of birth is 1891. Whatever the reasons for Serés’s playful invention (if that is what it is), no one, not even the publisher, appears to know: “To be honest I’m not entirely sure who wrote these stories—was it Francesc Serés himself, or are they really the work of five forgotten or neglected Russian writers? It’s a testament to how good the writing is that I can’t really tell.” The material covered in the stories varies according to the political and social conditions extant in the various authors’ experiences as they wrote throughout the twentieth century.
Ostensibly written both before and after the inception of communism in Russia, the stories run the gamut. Some reflect the absence of resources and the differences in lifestyle experienced by Russians, the mind-boggling boredom of bureaucratic work with the state agencies. Others narrate the angst of young lovers unable to marry because of social inequality. Others describe more desperate situations such as old people returning to their contaminated village near Chernobyl, the destruction of an entire village by the plague, and allusions to the Cold War communist sleeper cells in Omaha. Yet others deal with the exile of a group of intellectuals to various far-flung parts of Russia, while still another narrates the desperate situation of a cosmonaut stranded in space when his vessel breaks down with no possibility of rescue.
Although the actual identity of the Russian authors (and, for that matter, the Russian-Catalan translator) is left in the air, this anthology gives the reader something of an open-window view of how Russian society has evolved, allowing the non-Russophile to better understand events and Russians in their journey through the twentieth century. Fascinating in their own right, the short stories serve to enhance the differences among peoples’ experiences while, at the same time, highlighting the similarities inherent in the characters and their readers—all united as members of the human race.
In the end, it really does not matter if Francesc Serés wrote them or not: they all communicate a history of one sector of our global society—Russia—and as such they are worthy of our attention while providing two hours of entertaining reading. - Janet Mary Livesey
This brilliant and varied collection of short stories is the product of a current academic interest in cross-cultural translation. Francisco Guillen Serés is a Catalan professor of Art History from Aragon. A Russophile, he has travelled widely to collect stories from those writing during the past hundred years of Russian history. These have been translated into Catalan and then into English. These unusual and delightful stories, some twenty one of them written by five writers read fluently and engagingly. They form an informative tapestry of Soviet and post-Soviet life, moving back in time with the older, earlier writers like Bergchenko, who died in the siege of Stalingrad, at the end. Ranging over mythic and symbolic tales to realistic portrayals of personal relationships; love trysts in St Petersburg, ferocious bears in the deep heart of the Taiga to the perils of becoming lost in continuous orbit in space. All aspects are impressively recounted.In the preface Russian translator, Anastasia Maximova, sets the changing scene in an industrial suburb where she grew up in the 1990s. The esplanade in front of steel blast furnaces is littered with defunct statues of Stalin and Lenin about to be reprocessed. Unforgettable, is her description of the trucked in lines of heads made from incredibly tough alloys. These are so durable that a special technique must be evolved such that the heads must be drilled with holes, and then buried below ground where inserted explosive charges are necessary to blow them apart. Throughout these stories, such descriptions also represent hazardous transitions in Russian society, the effects on individuals are sometimes stultifying, often painful but also meliorated and transformed by generosity, friendship and kindness.
The first two authors, both of whom are women, born in 1967 and 1949 respectively, deal with personal issues against the backdrop of economic failure and authoritarian misrule. In Low Cost Life, Low Cost Love, Ola Yevgueniyeva writes of the sad and drab lives of the ground staff hostesses on the Russian airline, SAS outside St Petersburg. There is a feeling of being unable to attain the attractive standards of the more fortunate western European crews. Even the bus transport to the airfield has hard wooden benches and the roads contain bumps and potholes. This disappointed sadness creeps into relationships with men; low self-esteem leading to lowered expectation of their dates. A sorrowful but somehow poetic realism penetrates this writer's stories. She writes too of resurgent nobility in St Petersburg's great houses by the Neva which have survived the revolution, war and famine. In The Russian Doll's House the ardent but impoverished Juri must wait for years distanced from the aristocratic and beautiful Mia. She must marry an oafish industrialist in accordance with her family's demands. The story is written in a spell bounding, elegant style that brings out the tragedy of restricted, almost unrequited love.
These stories have all been carefully chosen and reminiscent of the language and tradition in which Chekhov and Gorky once wrote. Indeed the book is dedicated to Mikhail Bulgakov. There are tragic-comic stories about the possibility that Elvis might have sung in Red Square, of the last lonely hours of an orbiting spaceman suffering the consequences of yet another system failure. Here then is a parable of a superpower in a state of freefall. The terrible ecological disasters of the Aral Sea and Chernobyl are treated. The latter portraying the return of an old, yet determined, couple to the dangers of an irradiated countryside and how their dutiful daughter is torn between fulfilling their wishes and what she thinks is their imminent demise.
As the tales pass backwards along the brutal path of Soviet history, misplaced idealism and naivety are revealed. The Russian Road long, hot and dusty finds the exhausted revolutionary Akaki returning the many versts to his home village. When he arrives he finds that among the peasants in the countryside little if anything has changed. His attempts to persuade folk there that in exchange for their potatoes they will receive a transforming new culture are met with astonished disbelief. Curious, thought-provoking and allegorical, Volkov's The War against the Voromians tells of a peculiar area where there is a gravitational field anomaly. The inhabitants are subject to a corresponding increase in weight, have thicker necks and an affection for their homeland. They sadly become subject to state sponsored research and suspicion by the authorities. Population dispersal is forced upon these unfortunate Voromians, victims of external manipulation that seems to prevail in so many of these accounts.
Kafka once wrote, A book should become an axe for the frozen sea within us. This collection, carefully selected, fulfils such a criterion. They have the transformative edge of original writing. - George Care
Consequently , if it weren’t for this confession of mine , nobody would know that Elvis Presley gave a concert in Moscow’s red square.
Yes , you heard me , a concert in Red square in 1958.
It was one of the many demonstrations of strength the superpowers made during the cold war .A stupid one , but it was ,at the end of the day , a demonstration of strength .
Well imagine if the King had played in Moscow .
Frnacesc Serés happen in his love of Russian literature this lead him to coming across a unmined wealth of lost , writing that hadn’t seen the light of day outside Russia .He gathered together 21 different stories from five new to us in the west writers spanning the history of modern Russia .We start in modern Russia Ola Yevgueniyeva born in 1967 writes about Putin’s Russia stewardess contrast their world and the places they go and how their world is changing .Also a wonderful story of a chess match between an old gent and a young girl almost showing the change in modern Russia from the older player to the younger player .Then we move back through time with each subsequent writer .The next writer Vera-Margarita she evokes the soviet past story of red square mentions of Lenin and Stalin .Then we get to Vitali Kroptkin and my favourite story Elvis Presley sings in Red Square ,did you know that Elvis had song in Red square in 1958 well he had new KGB files show ,a fun look at what could have happened had the King played in Russia .Then we have Aleksandr Volkov he wrote of the post world war two soviet regime also how bizarre the state could be at times given the story about Voromians ,I liked this because it was just them remove the name and it is at heart of a number of incidents involving separate races with in the soviet sphere .The last writer Josef Bergghenko takes us to a pre world war two soviet times .
Voromians are pleasant , the odd one even looks at her as if he regonises her . one couple are called Var and Mirtila , like so many they ask her where they will be taken .She can’t think what to reply.
A group that have been moved by the purges .
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it well it is amazing to discover these unknown writers ,ha nearly had you no the book is entirely made up by the writer francesec Serés it is an homage to soviet writing but also a look into maybe what might have been written .He manages to pull it off with great style each writers piece do seem as thou they are from a different voice they are completely from the hands of Fransesc Serés he has playfully mixed styles of contemporaries of the figures he is writing about so you get sense of these writers writing in their time echoes of kafka the fun of Bulgakov .A book for fans of Russian literature but also the likes of Borges .I also discovered an interesting interview here it is in Spanish but comes across reasonably well via google translate . - winstonsdad
“Surface Effects” by Francesc Serés
Franscesc’s Tramlines story, written as part of his residency in Alexandria, is available to listen to or read for free on the interactive literary app Gimbal.
Francesc Serés is an award-winning Catalan author of novels, story collections, plays, and non-fiction. In 2013 MacLehose Press published an English version of Serés’s Russian Stories, which purports to be an anthology of non-existent Russian writers translated into Catalan. His narrative, The Skin of the Border, explores immigration to Catalonia. A regular contributor to the daily newspaper Ara, he lives in the northern town of Olot.