It’s My Baby – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“It’s My Baby” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (産気), 1980

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: To the amazement to everyone in the office, a man among them, named Masada, has become pregnant. Much amusement ensues, followed by disbelief, but as the pregnancy progresses, it becomes apparent that, however it ever came it be, the man is, in fact, quite pregnant. Immediately upon breaking the news, the man’s behaviors begin to change; for example: no coffee because for the baby and the need for a women’s magazine because of it’s baby articles, in addition to sudden craving, hormonal swings, and anatomical prides. One of Masada’s male colleagues bears the brunt of this progress, but slowly shifts from annoyance to acceptance and beyond.

Analysis: While there are five stages of grief, there must also be a limited number of stages for accepting new rules (e.g. a new dress code policy at work), a change of environment (e.g. moving to foreign country), or bizarre news (e.g. Trump becoming president): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is probably applicable only is it directly affects you. But move the “change” to something that only indirectly affects you, and you can most likely rid yourself of three of those stages: namely, anger, bargaining, depression. That leaves us with a wide chasm between 1) denial and 2) acceptance.

No doubt, these are not stages to pass but ends of spectrum likes the ends of a bridge; you start at densely black point of denial and make a perilous journey across the grey paved path toward the warmly welcoming point of white. Through these shades of grey lie a perplexing range of emotions, observations, and minuscule degrees of acceptance, as if each step across the bridge is one further so-called stage of acceptance.

Through Masada’s colleague’s eyes, the reader witnesses the spanning transition from denial (Masada, you’re not pregnant–that’s impossible) to the heroic rescue of Masada’s later stages of pregnancy. Even with the degree of impossibility that Masada’s colleague mist face, he still manages to cross that vast, multi-toned bridge of acceptance.

Review: Like many of the author’s stories, there’s a running theme of open misogyny. This rears its head within this story by imbuing Masada with all stereotypes of an expecting mother: her complaints, her aches, her concerns, etc. With most stories, this theme is an expectation and often a tongue-in-cheek delight for it remaining true to the author’s rebellious attitude toward socially acceptable norms, but in “It’s My Baby”, the effect is blatant and, therefore, watered down. His style is usually subtly callous, but, here, it feels all too laid out with a flimsy idea. Summary: so far, my least favorite Yasutaka Tsutsui story of both collections… or have I missed something?

The Onlooker – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“The Onlooker” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (傍観者), 2006

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

Synopsis: A woman walks through the door with a man in tow, who seems rather disheveled but eager to be in the presence of the woman. Together, they head toward the bedroom. Soon, another man knocks and enters the front door, causing the first man to crouch behind the sofa with in clothes in hand. The woman leads the second man to the bedroom where she had just been with the previous man. In the second man’s jacket sits a letter from another woman. Observing all of this is the onlooker on the sofa who thinks of three things: metaphysics, new challenges, and food.

Analysis: Simple lives can be reflective lives… take a look at Buddhist monks (well, not Thai Buddhist monks as some members of the sangha seem to be embroiled in fraud, lechery, or both). Anyway, there are 227 precepts for monks to follow, which are called the patimokkha. Though many of the precepts outdated and terrible specific (i.e. monks may not  raw wool for more than 48 kilometers), many create discipline in the monastic order so that time can better spent learning and preaching the dhamma.

A good life can be had through this simplicity if mindfulness is present; however, sometimes simplicity is forced upon us, be it because of age or location. In this so-called downtime, the mind isn’t occupied by the everyday distractions of social media, routine, or work; rather, the mind begins to spin like a flywheel. In this free state, epiphanies can occur, reflection can be sought, and introspection can effervesce.

Compare this state of being with the life of the average adult: embroiled in daily work, petty personal dramas, all-consuming routine, time-killing “hobbies”, and general lethargy. When can the mind reflect on proper diet and exercise or treating others in a neighborly fashion? This requires mindfulness and mindfulness isn’t gained through busyness, but by quiet reflection.

In the story, the onlooker waxes lyrical before observing the chaotic scene of lewd adult behavior. In this drama (much like that of a soap opera), the onlooker loses focus on high-minded ideas in order to understand the unfolding drama. Ripped from reverie, the onlooker’s mind transitions from metaphysics to adult drama to food… from high thought to circuses then to bread.

Review: Aside from the reflection of innocence and corruption of the mind, there’s a further parallelism in the function of the woman and her body parts in the story. I can’t divulge too much without ruining the ending, but upon completing the story, consider what she could have used with the two men and how she could use it with the onlooker. If corruption extends past the acts committed, the use of her body in the story is a further spoiling of innocence upon the onlooker. The story is short but well paced while offering candy for the mind in more ways than one.

Call for the Devil! – Yasutaka Tsutsui

“Call for the Devil!” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese (悪魔を呼ぶ連中), 1980

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

 

Synopsis: The president, the finance director, and the marketing director for a large company have gathered together to decide the fate of their company by attempting to sell their souls to the devil; otherwise, scores of employees and many subcontractors would suffer under the company’s collapse. With the tables and candles placed in a pentangle, they begin to burn ingredients in the middle fire so that the devil may be drawn out, but Benkei—a folklore Japanese character—greets them. Shocked yet disappointed, they cast different variations in the fire only to summon a variety of characters, including Jesus, Popeye, and Beethoven. Undeterred by their failure, the marketing director takes the first shift to draw the devil out.

Analysis: Good Corporate Governance isn’t a very exciting topic of conversation. Big Business is an easy target of attack as its a bodiless entity without a soul and whose main purpose for existence if the generation of profit. Naturally, human bodies that actually embody the profit-seeking nature of their respective business is, of course, its board of directors, president, CEO, etc. Like the bodiless entity of the business, these heads of governance are also easy targets as they tend to be just as disembodied as the “entity”, what with their lofty offices, exorbitant salaries, and daily distance from the lowest rungs of operations.

Rather than facing the problem head-on—perhaps with line graphs, Gantt charts, or multivariate tables—the now-embodied governors of fate for the company take to the supernatural to rectify their errors in leading the company to profit or success. As they begin to summon the devil himself, they first accidentally evoke Benkei and then Jesus, neither of which have they any interest in assistance. The former entity can be seen as a long-winding tie to the past, a reminder that many of today’s hardships can be overcome with the advice of our elders; the latter entity represents altruism, an all-loving entity that can overcome hardships with understanding and love… yet as, as the president says, “God has no place in commerce!”

Review: When I say like bizarro fiction, I usually have a hard time just defining what exactly that is; however, “I know it when I see it,”as Potter Stewart had said. In “Call for the Devil!”, merges elements of the bizarre, a tenuous parallelism to the plot, and my favorite topic of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s stories: the effects on Salarymen. Granted, this effect isn’t as direct as “Rumours About Me” (1972/2006), “Commuter Army” (1973/2006), or “Hello, Hello, Hello!” (1974/2006), but the story still has salarymen in its scope. I’m not sure if there’s a numerological significance to this story (Benkei’s so-called seven famous weapons and the later Seven Gods of Fortune), but this notions adds another layer of analysis to a story that’s already steeped in a good looking-at.

Bullseye! – Yasutaka Tsutsui

 

“Bullseye!” (novlette) by Yasutaka Tsutsui

English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)

Original: Japanese, 2015

Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017

 

Synopsis: “Eccentric” isn’t a word that Shoichi Azumi would use to describe himself. Even in his wizened state, he claims that all of his actions are logical, such as stealing a wad of cash from his family, stealing a gun for a police officer, and knocking a professor unconscious. Objectively, however, he doesn’t seem to recognize his family nor does he even remember where he’s going, but two things is certain: He knows what he’s doing and he’s not afraid to get his way.

Pre-analysis: Prior to my paternal grandparents’ passing, they lived their lives in juxtaposition: while my grandfather was always in good health, his mind had started to fade long ago; in contrast, my grandmother always had a sharp mind, yet her body was weakening year my year. Regardless of this, the family always thought that he’d pass first. In retrospect, both descents into failure—one of the mind, the other of the body—were equally difficult to watch over the years. In the end, the hazards of radiation therapy took my grandmother, the passing of whom my grandfather could never remember and always came as a shock when retold the news. His memory may had faded, but his emotions were still in tact.

Analysis: With the zest that life gives the youth and through the productive days of adulthood, there come both a cost and a gift to the life of experience and expenditure:the cost of memory and the gift of intuition. While the former floods the mind day by day, the tenuous waters never hold behind the mental dam; rather, they seep through its cracks, dribbling away numbers, faces, names, and entire episodes of the former life. In contrast, however, intuition is a gift is like the moisture in the air—directly intangible yet ever-present.

When Shoichi Azumi experiences his world in his purely subjective fashion—such as the clock talking to him or the money beckoning to be stolen—he follows his intuition: if the clock tells me to break the mug, I’ll break the mug; the the money beckons to be stolen, I will steal it. Again, from the objective point to view, his actions are without cause, a seemingly geriatric mental invalid who is bent on destruction. Some would say he’s hostile, crazy, dangerous, offensive, or deranged, but in the old man’s mind, he’s just connecting the dots as they come, which is sort of a Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment. Shoichi Azumi sees and reacts, following only intuition since the cost of memory has taken its toll as the gift of intuition keep on giving.

Review: The elderly are occasionally doted upon for being forgetful or eccentric. Some stories have keenly reflected these idiosyncrasies, including John Updike’s The Poorhouse Fair (1958), Iain Banks’s The Quarry (2013), and The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013). It’s not often that these idiosyncrasies have a notable effect on a greater population other than family or residents, but “Bullseye!” expands the effect of Shoichi Azumi’s lengthy foray into intuition onto the city. Objectively guilty yet subjectively innocent, the charades that follow and the conclusion leave an open-ended answer to the results of this toleration of the idiosyncratic elderly.

The Unman – Vadim Shefner

The Unman (novel) by Vadim Shefner

English Publication History: The Unman/Kovrigin’s Chronicles (1980, Macmillan)

Original: Russian (Человек с пятью “не”, или Исповедь простодушного), 1967

Translated by Alice Stone Nakhimovsky & Alexander Nakhimovsky, 1980

Synopsis: Even when born, expectations for Stefan were very low when compared to his elder brother, who seemed destined for greatness with a name like Victor. Certainly, as the years progressed, his brother basked in the glory of his accomplishments and the admiration of his parents while Stefan was deemed the un-son: unskillful, unintelligent, unoutstanding, unlucky, and unhandsome. Through his childhood, though he persevered as much as a child could and did the best with what he had, his one inspiration came for his room’s wallpaper: copies of a perfume advertisement featuring a striking girl.

Later in life, his finds himself the junction of many wonderful scientific discoveries, none of which he actually discovered himself but which had been created by the intelligent minds and kindred souls that only wanted to share their discoveries with Stefan. Immediately being struck by the ideas–a hair-growth elixir, an accurate probability computer, and a singing substance among them–the inventors heed a warning that not all was as it seemed. Being unlucky and maybe a shade unbright, Stefan experiences the unpositive sides of each inventions; regardless, he perseveres with the one glimmering spark of gratitude that happened but once in his life: the befriending of a boy in school who he helped push off of a cliff, which was what his friend wanted, anyhow.

Still living in his brother’s deep, dark shadow of success, Stefan follies through life. When that same accurate probability computer predicts that his luck will turn around–after winning cash and a motorcycle–Stefan takes on an even more optimistic perspective on his life. Though nearly everything and everyone had let his down, Stefan knows that he’ll get the chance to make his dreams come true. As he’s always been honest in his life, perhaps he’s due to receive his good karma.

Pre-analysis: Far-fetched tales are often met by two reactions: 1) calm disbelief waiting for the punchline and 2) ecstatic absorption in the yarn. We’ve all met people who have spun yarns and we’ve reacted in both ways, depending on the story-teller. One man’s flight of imagination is another man’s everyday, just as treasure is with trash; what may ring of adventure to the teller may be banal to the listener. Further, when a story seems such a flight of fancy as to border absurd or hugely coincidental, belief is suspended and the listened becomes a passive, uninterested listener. When in written word and when the narrator aims to deliver the story “without embellishment and without evasion” (3), we need to prepare ourselves for the latter reaction: absorption.

Analysis: Granted, this story is rather far-fetched a certainly a work of science fiction; however, there is a certain amount of whit intended to penetrate the story to make it seem larger than life. Perhaps this larger-than-life quality is supposed to counter Stefan’s banal day-to-day life. While he trudges through the complexities of failure and misfortune, coincidence takes a liking to him in order to bear him a gift that could turn it all around… only, Stefan is either too unlucky or too dim to handle it properly.

As mentioned in the pre-analysis, regardless of the situation, Stefan maintains an optimistic perspective; some would consider this optimism to be one of unyielding positivity, others may seem a dim-witted idiot. He’s actually a bit of both. He knows one thing though: when to play and when to fold. He doesn’t sink himself deeper in despair, nor does he drive others into poverty, dismemberment, or death with him–that is exactly where he shines: he’s personable, trusting, honest, reliable, collected, and loyal… he just happens to be a tad short-sighted, however.

And it’s for this reason that the reader cheers him on.

Review: I didn’t think humor had much of a place in Soviet-era science ficiton, what with propaganda, censors, satire, and whatnot. The Unman is a certain surprse when it comes to Soviet science ficiton; granted, don’t apply the “science” label too firmly on this story as it has science-like elements (i.e. a certain friendship) and wild inventions (as mentioned in the pre-analysis). As Stefan’s story is a flight of fancy, so too does Vadim Shefner take a leap from the serious side of Soviet scifi (pardon the alliteration) in order to warm the reader to a likable lass such as Stefan. It’s for fun, not intellectual reflection.

Tiger-Poet – Atsushi Nakajima

“Tiger-Poet” (short story) by Atsushi Nakajima

English Publication History: Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology (Charles E. Company, 1962)

Original: Japanese (山月記), 1942

Translated by Ivan Morris, 1962

Synopsis: Li Cheng passed the civil servant tests with much ease and was held in high regard. After quickly becoming promoted and gaining some experience, he felt that he was above the urbane drudgery and committed himself to writing; however, finally live hand-to-mouth, he reapplied for civil service at a disgracefully low position. The drudgery driving him mad, he leaps out of an inn one day and disappears. Yet one day, one of his old classmates comes across Li Cheng in the forest, but Li Cheng has since taken the form of a tiger, who lapses from animal- to human-state while maintaining his speech and poetry.

Pre-analysis: Just two words can be quite powerful. When I say “I run”, it’s a statement of pride like a welling hot spring. Further, when I say “I read”, it’s also a statement of pride. I don’t get the same sense of pride if I state facts about my gender, nationality, weight, or habits. You’re probably a reader, too, who has amassed a surmountable collection of books. Look at those books, gaze upon their diversity, imagery, and artistry. Now, imagine being someone who’s never read a book. Do you feel empty? or hollow? or devolved?  Further, imagine losing your books and not being able to pick up another book or another story for a day (for me, that’d hurt), a week, a month, a year. Do you feel empty again?

Analysis: In line with my interpretation of “Tiger-Poet”, I found an article abstract that resonates what I thought and better captures what I intended to say. The following abstract is from an article titled “A literate tiger: ‘Sangetsuki’ (Tiger-Poet) and the tragedy or discordance” (23 January 2007) by Kido Askew:

This paper examines Nakajima Atsushi’s celebrated short novel about transformation, ‘Sangetsuki’ (‘Tiger-Poet’). I describe Nakajima’s view of literacy and how this view is reflected in ‘Sangetsuki’. For Nakajima, literacy is the fruit of knowledge: once eaten, one can never return to one’s original state of happiness. In Nakajima’s world, to be literate means to experience agony, which is made even more acute when the inner literate mentality is contained within an outer oral appearance. The tragedy of ‘Sangetsuki’ lies not in the transformation of the hero from literate to oral, but in the incompleteness of the transformation; the hero retains his human mentality even after his physical appearance has been transformed. I also discuss ‘Sangetsuki’ in relation to the Gothic novel. It has been said that ‘Sangetsuki’ is Nakajima’s version of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. However, if we focus on the issue of literacy, it has much more in common with Frankenstein. For the monster in Frankenstein and the hero in ‘Sangetsuki’ share the same suffering: the agony of literacy and the tragedy of discordance.

Pride seems to have wounded Li Cheng once: He quit the civil service to focus on the nobler quest of writing. That same pride then ruined him again: He couldn’t make a living from writing so he gave up and rejoined the civil service. Then, there’s a third time pride destroyed him: Unable to write what he loves, he loses his mind and devolves to a tiger, the form of which is unable to write, only to remember.

Review: We all experience failure; sometimes, it ruins us. Pardon the cliche: Most of us hit a few bumps on the road of life, but it never turns us into a insect (à la Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) or a tiger (like Nakajima here). Whichever form failure leaves us in is the form we must accept. Li Cheng’s intellectual destiny as a civil servant contrasted with his artistic idealism, albeit mediocre artistry. So, next time when you fail, be thankful you still have your looks (unlike Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) and your facilities (unlike Li Cheng). I think the key word here is “poignant”.

The Other City – Michal Ajvaz

The Other City (novel) by Michal Ajvaz

English Publication History: The Other City (2009, Dalkey Press)

Original: Czech (Druhé Město), 1993

Translated by Gerald Turner, 2009

Synopsis: When a man comes across an enigmatic text in the second-hand bookshop, the mysteries within compel him to buy it, seek someone who can understand it, and follow its enigma to the fullest. With words of warning, the man still decides to peer into his city’s empty corners and unlit corridors, passages of which lead to a parallel city that coexists with his own. The city’s perplexing customs and history only compel him deeper into its mystery, which may ensnare him if he commits himself, or if the denizens of the other city vanquish him first.

Pre-analysis:If you live in a city–or even in a town, for that sake–look out the window. The observable man-made universe can stretch for kilometers: apartments, roads, houses, elevated expressways, warehouses, skyscrapers–all have an exterior sheaths, all have dark nuances, and all have forgotten crevices. So, the “observable universe” that you see is mostly hidden from your view. You may see all those facades, but you’ll never see any of those nuances or crevices; those corners of civilization will forever remain an obscure idea of what composes a city. Now, imagine the same nuances and crevices that everyone has forgotten–only time and space lurk there, both existing and non-existing like Schrodinger’s cat. If you were to awaken yourself to these dark facets of the city, would they invert you into a parallel city, a realm of randomness? Look at the subway station’s fire exit, the condo’s bottom-floor stairwell, the mall’s shuddered shop, the void under the bridge – is there only darkness?

Analysis: Honestly, between the pre-analysis–where I wax poetic about my perception of the world in context with the novel–and the review–how it applied to my perception of the world, there remains very little between the two. The novel is a sustained flight of imagination (a phrase I used to reserve for Mervin Peake’s Titus Groan [1946] and Gormenghast [1950]) simply ensnares the reader. The reason behind this flight of imagination? The meaning behind the amazing stretch of imagination? In my opinion, there isn’t a particular thread that ties the novel’s unreality with any current issue; nor do I think that the juxtaposition of city-realities penetrates what we consider as city life.

If I were to make a stretch, I would say this: There’s a fine line between what we perceive and what is, what we think we see and what we think about what we see; what’s there when we look, what’s there when we turn away–solipsism. We can try to convey our experiences, but our subjective existence of any matter really prohibits what we can actually convey. Rather than confront our limitation in communication, an all-out assault on experiencing may be the only respite to satisfying the subjective mind, the self, the only confirmed mode of existence.

Review: Magical realism is a draw because it superimposes another layer of reality atop of our own familiar one. With a simple stretch of imagination–the novel’s perfection will give it much bolstering–the fragments of another reality can trickle in to your imagination, the figments of which cast ethereal impossibilities in your everyday life: If I were to follow that narrow space between those two buildings… If I were to crouch and hide here until the lights are off… If I were to meander the halls and stacks without a destination. When a novel penetrates your skull to this degree, you can clearly give it respect for having played the strings of your mind. Call it escapism or fantasy; regardless, a novel of this sort can shift your perspective on reality.

The House of a Spanish Dog – Haruo Satō

“The House of a Spanish Dog” (short story) by Haruo Satō

English Publication History: The Transatlantic Review No.7 (Fall 1961), Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology (Charles E. Company, 1962)

Original: Japanese (西班牙犬の家), 1914

Translated by George Saito, 1961

Synopsis: Fraté is put for walk with his dog, whom he likes to follow as the dog tends to lead him off the beaten path. After a few hours, Fraté finds himself deep along a forested path then within the neck of the woods itself. Suddenly, just before him, it seems his dog had led him to a rustic little home under the forest’s canopy. Peeking inside, Fraté sees no one but a dog inside; upon opening the door, the only remnant of a anyone is a still-smoking cigarette. The simple dog and simple decor encourage Fraté’s daydreaming before he leaves, yet peeks inside for a surprise.

Pre-analysis: While the author’s “early poems show[ed] a strong socialistic tendency”, his later poems exhibited “his profound knowledge and passionate love of Japanese classical literature” (Morris, 1962). Morris further describes the story as having a “strong lyrical vein”, a story that was one of Satō’s few speculative stories before “adopt[ing] a more realistic approach to his material” later in his life.

Analysis: This 8-page story is largely a work of fiction that takes a vein of a story of a man and his dog. Simple as it may begin, the progressive series of placid mysteries impinge upon the man’s idle curiosity. With only the other man’s worldly belongings to stir his imagination, Fraté lets his imagination wander before exiting and peering through the window, where he sees the dog has disappeared yet the man seemingly materialize.

For Fraté, his curious nature is led by his trusty canine, a natural beast that is prone to curiosity and investigation; thereby, Fraté does likewise, albeit vicariously. For the forest hermit, however, this isolated man is more of an observer rather than a investigator. Where Fraté is an active pursuer of objective truth, the hermit is a passive observer of subjective sense. In the state in which they meet, both modes–active and passive–can be mutually explored only when innocent deceit is leveled.

Review: Morris remarked that the story shows a “strong lyrical vein”, but reads more like an immersive subjective story in a bucolic setting. Things are seen through the eyes and curiosity of Fraté, but the expected reflective poetry to his insights are not to be found; rather, it’s Fraté’s small flights of imagination and piques of insight that stir the reader to follow him through the hamlet, out the door, and to peer back through the window.

My Dad’s an Antibiotic – Sergei Lukyanenko

“My Dad’s an Antibiotic” (novelette) by Sergei Lukyanenko

English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)

Original: Russian (Мой папа — антибиотик), 1992

Translated by Liv Bliss, 2015

Synopsis: Alik is proud of his father, who is with the Assault Force Corps responsible for special mission to quash revolt among planetary colonies. His dad is an impressive figure of Herculean strength, but he’s thoughtful too in bringing his son a gift after every mission—usually war loot. When his father gives Alik a bracelet from the same planet as his best friend, he digs a little deeper into the bracelet’s veiled origins, only to later learn that the, on that same planet, boys his own age are recruited to fight in the resistance.

Pre-analysis: Trophies from hard-fought wars have been a source of pride from countless wars across countless lands wherein countless people died. These trophies were the aim of the conquest and/or conflict, so the winning of the trophies is doubtlessly a sign of victory—the conclusion to the war. Spoils of war, on the other hard, are sort of like tokens of combat, items had by chance. But the trophies and tokens shouldn’t be held to the same standard—the trophy came through power, the tokens came by chance, so fate dealt the gifts of the spoils of war… and haven’t we always been told to not look a gift horse in the mouth?

The intangible trophy from the victory on the distant planet is the suppression of dissent, the end to a rebellion—the soldiers probably feel very little pride over this trophy, so they resort to spoils of war as tokens of their victory. Pride in these tokens/spoils is vacant as these items are kept merely for interest like a memento from an event, a keepsake from a ceremony, or a souvenir from a holiday. These same items are kept on shelves, stored in boxes, or given to family or friends.

Alik’s father paws off one such spoil of war to his son without much thought about what the bracelet meant to its now-deceased owner. It was given to Alik in a sort of low-key manner without much forethought as to the significance of the gift—neither of them looked the gift horse in the mouth, until the boy’s curiosity gets the best of him.

Analysis: Considering the story is from 1992, the year after the USSR’s change to modern Russia, the story is ripe with reference to this transition. There’s certainly the intangible trophy of the people—democracy—but what are the tangible spoils of war had by chance? “Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers…” (Trainspotting, 1996) – ah, the plentitude of capitalism!

The older generation (akin of Alik’s father) may not give second thoughts to these tangible spoils because having is much better than having-not—perish the queues for bread, the rations of gasoline, and permits for travel. The shift from inefficient communism to at-hand capitalism must have been warmly welcomed and embraced! The more modern generation—what with their Pepsi, Walkmans, and Levis—should have been more skeptical of these wondrous gifts from the West. Who were they to shrug off the yoke from decades of tradition and hard work? They must have learned their lesson from the proverb “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, unlike the wise young Alik from the story. The youth don’t see the danger in what they have; meanwhile, Alik quickly learned what the bracelet represented, thereby saving his life.

Review: This story, much more so than any of the others, has a certain Western feel to it, akin to Joe Haldeman. The analysis have may dug a little too deep into the story for want of a juicy morsel, but on my initial read of the story, it really felt straight forward, unlike many of the other stories in the collection. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times or simply the author’s style, but the collection ended on a fairly weak note with this inclusion.

Doorinda – Daliya Truskinovskaya

“Doorinda” (excerpt) by Daliya Truskinovskaya

English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)

Original: Russian (Дверинда), 1990

Translated by Julia M. Sidorova, 2015

Synopsis: Ksenya is seeing hard times since her husband left her and their son to live alone in their apartment block. Returning to her home on evening, she realizes that she had forgotten her keys, and at that moment of good fortune, a man on the run offers his help, which he does with several strange devices, but it also benefits him—as soon as he’s through the door, he disappears. When Ksenya tries the door on a rainy day, she suddenly appears at work. At first, thoughts of food and medicine stir in her mind.

Pre-analysis: A few words from Wiki regarding supply and rationing in the USSR in the 1980s:

Perestroika was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s, widely associated with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost (meaning “openness”) policy reform. The literal meaning of perestroika is “restructuring”, referring to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system. Perestroika is sometimes argued to be a cause of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, and the end of the Cold War. (wiki)

In the 1980s shortages continued in basic consumer items, even in major population centers. Such goods occasionally were rationed in major cities well into the 1980s. Besides the built-in shortages caused by planning priorities, shoddy production of consumer goods limited actual supply …. By the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse at the end of 1991, nearly every kind of food was rationed. Non-rationed foods and non-food consumer goods had virtually disappeared from state owned stores. While the gap was partially filled by non-state stores which started to appear in the mid-1980s, the prices in non-state stores were often five to ten times higher than in state stores and were often out of reach for the general population. (wiki)

Analysis: Desperation settles upon Ksenya as she struggles with her life at home as she has to raise her son by herself. She considers their lack of food and medicine yet is hopeless against the inertia of perestroika to obtain anything useful. Her stroke of fortune comes from the fantastic run-in with a fugitive who enables her door to open to wherever she pleases. She allows her to immediately bypass to a number of everyday annoyances: (1) she can forego inconvenient public transportation, (2) she can pick and choose victual items from hoarded stockpiles, and (3) she can obtain medical supplies just when she needs it most.

In essence, the gift that Ksenya had been given was the gift of capitalism. Consider: (1) if she had a private car, she could avoid most the rain and arrive at work on time; (2) if she could go to a supermarket, she could purchase items for her two-member family within her budget; and (3) if she had a decent hospital, she could get the supplies and care she needed for her son.

Review: As she considers her life to have become magical, she interweaves herself into the fairy tales she tells her son, an aspect of the excerpt that adds a meta-fictional element to the longer novella-length story, which, according to various translated reviews, sees Ksenya travel to romantic fantasy lands. So, as a reader show doesn’t fancy anything related to “romantic fantasy”, perhaps its better that the story was abbreviated before it go into the magical lands. The full-version of the story could, however, offer a little more detail into the meta-fictional element of this excerpt that, at first glance, seems to follow the 1930s or 1940s pulp tradition of “inexplicable devices doing wondrous things without any reason”, if that’s a sub-genre or something.