Snow in May

Snow in May Kseniya Melnik S Snow In May Introduces A Cast Of Characters Bound By Their Relationship To The Port Town Of Magadan In Russia S Far East, A Former Gateway For Prisoners Assigned To Stalin S Forced Labor Camps Comprised Of A Surprising Mix Of Newly Minted Professionals, Ex Prisoners, Intellectuals, Musicians, And Faithful Party Workers, The Community Is Vibrant And Resilient And Life In Magadan Thrives Even Under The Cover Of Near Perpetual Snow By Blending History And Fable, Each Of Melnik S Stories Transports Us Somewhere Completely New A Married Magadan Woman Considers A Proposition From An Italian Footballer In S Moscow An Ailing Young Girl Visits A Witch Doctor S House Where Nothing Is As It Seems A Middle Aged Dance Teacher Is Entranced By A New Student S Raw Talent A Former Soviet Boss Tells His Granddaughter The Story Of A Thorny Friendship And A Woman InJumps Into A Marriage With An Army Officer Far Too SoonWeaving In And Out Of The Last Half Of The Twentieth Century, Snow In May Is An Inventive, Gorgeously Rendered, And Touching Portrait Of Lives Lived On The Periphery Where, Despite Their Isolation And Perhaps Because Of It The Most Seemingly Insignificant Moments Can Be Beautiful, Haunting, And Effervescent

Kseniya Melnik s debut book is the linked story collection Snow in May, which was short listed for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and long listed for the Frank O Connor International Short Story Award It was published in the US and UK in 2014 and will come out in Japan in translation in 2017 Born in Magadan, Russia, Kseniya moved to Alaska in 1998, at the age of 15 She received her MFA fr

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  • Hardcover
  • 272 pages
  • Snow in May
  • Kseniya Melnik
  • English
  • 14 December 2019
  • 9781627790079

10 thoughts on “Snow in May

  1. says:

    Snow In May was a special book for me Those stories of a far east Siberian town resonated with me on many levels There is a common ground, some shared experience of all those who lived in the Soviet Bloc during communism It s quite amazing how the themes and tropes would repeat itself thousands of miles away from Warsaw, somewhere at the end of the world And yet, the world behind the Iron Curtain was a unique experience, difficult to explain to outsiders but wordlessly recognizable to anyone who s lived there It s a world where the constant fight for basic survival still left room for producing world class pianists, chess players or ballet dancers A person might worry about the shortages of food and their three hour daily piano practice all on the same day It s a world which formed individuals particularly unfit to survive in rampant capitalism Melnik paints this world exceptionally and adds a special Siberian flavour to it The stories often mingle, letting some of the characters return and then they walk away from each other Like any good story collection, it is striving for the human and universal and it succeeds Ex Soviet Bloc inhabitants might recognize themselves in details but anyone can relate to the bigger themes of the usual stuff of human experience, loss, love, pain and what have you I think Melnik is particularly successful with stories featuring children and teenagers It might be that I just relate to them better because I was once was a child behind the Iron Curtain, or maybe Melnik writes them better because she was one herself before she left Siberia to move to Alaska I can see she must have got tired of snow at last as she now lives in Texas I must say I m terribly jealous of her talent and success but will try not to hold that against her.These scattered, cryptic comments probably don t the book justice, so just take my word for it it s simply beautiful and I hope it will be noticed and appreciated Melnik is definitely an author to watch.

  2. says:

    Welcome to Magadan, Russia Sarah Palin can see this from her house Though I had a real problem connecting with the last two stories in the book, most of these tales of life in a cold climate were wonderful Melnik explores universal topics like marriage, birth, divorce, death, love, hope, hatred and envy, while also touching on aspects of culture that are peculiar to Mother Russia I thoroughly enjoyed the first story in the collection, Love Italian Style, or In Line for Bananas Set in 1975, a Magadan housewife is on a shopping trip to Moscow She waits in line for school supplies, household necessities and special treats, all the while mulling over a proposed dalliance with a member of the Italian soccer team Other favorites were Rumba, a tale about a dance instructor s obsession with an obstinate but gifted student he hopes will bring him fame and fortune, and the title story which concerns a young boy s inability to concentrate on his piano recital performance.Melnik has an unusual way of looking at everyday life and has the ability to turn hum drum moments into temporary magic.

  3. says:

    Snow in May is a beautiful collection of short stories, each one immersed in Russian culture, but each one also a deep look at various intriguing characters.

  4. says:

    A collection of nine short stories, each linked in some way to Russia s far eastern port city of Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk Magadan is a grey place where winter lasts for many long, dark months and temperatures hover near zero degrees Farenheit Only one road leads into and out of this isolated land, and for much of the year it is only accessible by air or sea Magadan is also a haunted place during the Stalin years it served as the port for the GULAG network of prisons and labor camps and hundreds of thousands died in the Kolyma mines in the mountains that ring Magadan.Yet the stories are not depressing they have a sort of matter of fact tone, with no self pity and much humor Each tale gives a date beneath the title they run from the 1970s through the present day The stories are richly detailed vignettes of ordinary life and of ordinary people managing to dream and live despite the hardships Melnik has a gift for description and for creating vivid, memorable characters.I am in love with the character in the first story Tanya lives in Magadan with a wonderful husband a non drinker and her beloved children On a shopping trip to Moscow in 1975, Tanya is faced with a choice between bananas and a fling with an Italian soccer player Which will it be Several characters appear, disappear and reappear in these stories It s a special pleasure to catch these glimpses of familiar names the sensation is rather like those moments when, in a crowd, you see someone you know vaguely in another context Sonya who longs to be a doctor and her grandmother, Baba Olya who actually is a doctor are among the recurring characters and are partly autobiographical they deserve a lovely, long family saga type novel all their own For evocative photos of Magadan see this blog from Toby Dixonhttp www.tobydixon.com magadan russia UPDATE 9 12 18 Sadly Toby Dixon s Magadan photo essay seems to have disappeared from the web.

  5. says:

    In brief A collection of nine linked short stories about family, music, medicine, and the legacy of Stalinist oppression Most are set in the northeastern Russian town of Magadan, though America often provides a useful counterbalance Several stories focus on three female generations of one family, and it is a pleasure to spot the threads joining the narratives Russian music, proverbs, and foodstuffs abound, and you can feel the bleak cold Meanwhile, the theme of finding happiness by carving a logical narrative out of the chaos of life should resonate with any reader Full review, originally posted at Bookkaholic Kseniya Melnik grew up in Magadan, Russia but moved to Alaska at age 15 In her debut short story collection, she reflects on the past half century of Russian history through the experiences of ordinary people coping with family and marital strife, medical trauma, and crises of meaning Magadan was famous for having been the center of the cruelest of Stalin s campsthe most remote island in the notorious Gulag Archipelago, Melnik writes The town is thus not only of personal significance, but also a metaphorical tie to wartime tragedies.Chronologically the first story, Strawberry Lipstick is set in 1958 and finds Olya both jilted in love and rejected by her chosen college She settles for Alek and follows him into military barracks, but soon realizes she s made a mistake when he starts gambling their money away Olya bitterly recalls her sister s wry proverbs Bride has an axe, groom is barefoot and A bad husband s wife is always an idiot When Alek s behavior turns violent, she escapes along with their daughter, Marina, and trains as a doctor in another town thus paving the way for stories featuring her descendants.Indeed, eagle eyed readers will remember a character named Marina in the second story, Closed Fracture Tolik, retired to California after years working as an aviation engineer in Anchorage, gets a phone call from childhood friend Tolyan, who still lives in Magadan This unexpected voice from his past prompts him to recall his years in Russia the skiing accident that left him with a bad leg meeting his wife Marina at a Black Sea sanatorium and his and Tolyan s diverging experiences of marriage and fatherhood Looking back, Tolik isn t always sure he s made the right decisions But only in solitary confinement does memory become a merciless editor, cutting a bearable story out of the ever accumulating mess of days Five of Melnik s stories are modified coming of age narratives set in the 1990s Music is a frequently recurring element in these near past tales In The Uncatchable Avengers, the pupils of Magadan Children s MusicSchool 1 put on a televised Tchaikovsky festival One of the amateur pianists, Dima, finally gets through his piece on the fourth attempt after some excruciating flubs reminiscent of the childhood performance memory in Richard Powers s recent music themed novel, Orfeo.Dima shares a piano teacher with Tolik and Marina s daughter, Sonya, who appears in two of the later stories Sonya narrates Summer Medicine, set in 1993 during a stay at her grandmother Olya s clinic Longing to be a doctor herself, Sonya follows the staff around and makes up some peculiar ailments of her own The hospital setting and precocious protagonist reminded me of Anthony Marra s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, another wonderful debut with an Eastern European setting.In Our Upstairs Neighbor, the somewhat over long last story, Sonya is disappointed when legendary singer Vadim Makin fails to show up for his ninetieth birthday tribute concert Instead, her grandfather, Deda Misha, recounts Makin s unusual life story for her Makin, a closeted homosexual who spent time as a prisoner, had been his upstairs neighbor in Magadan Music serving as a tonic for heartache links this story to Rumba, in which a middle aged dance instructor falls for one of his young students The latter story s bittersweet tone reminded me of Maggie Shipstead s Astonish Me, a novel of love and disappointment in the world of professional ballet Kruchina, the next to last story, also dwells on this uneasy balance between music and sadness Masha is visiting her daughter Sveta, a Russian mail order bride, in her new home in Fargo, where she and her daughter Katya have joined Brian and Brittny to create a new, blended family Masha begs Katya to perform a song with her at their green card celebration party a somber folk tune called Kruchina, an archaic word for grief the existential sorrow about a woman s lot This story is, to me, the most successful juxtaposition of Russia and America, and the clearest exploration of the immigrant s emotional impasse The longer I am away from Russia, the surreal it all seems, Sveta says You re a different kind, Katya, Masha observes You live in two worlds Imagine, each foot standing on a globe beach ball The two stand out stories for me are, in some ways, the least representative ones The Witch, set in 1989, is narrated by Alina, whose mother and grandmother take her to a traditional healer for her migraines Alina makes believe that she is entering a fairy tale, with the medicine woman taking on the role of Baba Yaga, the witch in a forest cottage Her imagination contrasts beautifully with the darker reality of the headaches and possible Chernobyl fallout.My favorite story of all, though, is Love, Italian Style, or in Line for Bananas It is 1975 and Tanya is flying from Magadan to Moscow for a major shopping trip In a time of shortages, she needs to stockpile food and clothing for her husband and sons On the plane, Tanya is propositioned by a player from the Italian soccer team, who invites her to meet him at his Moscow hotel at 8 pm All day, as Tanya gathers supplies and chats with Auntie Roza and her apartment mates, she s pondering the offer Remember that the State disapproves of intermingling with foreigners, one nosy neighbor warns Should she take the chance on a fantasy romance Tanya sets off for the hotel but stops short when she sees a street seller with crates of bananas Her sons have never tasted the fruit before, and she loves the thought of treating them to an exotic delicacy Will she have time to wait in line for the bananas and still meet her would be Latin lover Like one of E.M Forster s Italian set novels Where Angels Fear to Tread or A Room with a View , this story pivots on the disparity between Italy, with its hot blooded passion, and the stoic reality of Soviet existence In the end she doesn t get either thing she wished for, but realizes she s content with what she already has a message that echoes the wisdom of a classic O Henry story, The Gift of the Magi Melnik brings Soviet Russia to life with a wealth of vivid detail hoar frosted leaves falling with a jingle in winter crowded communal apartment buildings shared experiences of privation and pain Yet there is also something tender in her depictions of the place and its people she lovingly weaves in proverbs, songs, and Russian vocabulary Food is another prime trigger of memories The snow smelled like freshly cut cucumbers, Deda Misha is full of stories, like a barrel full of pickled cabbage, and Auntie Roza serves Tanya the perfect nostalgic borsch I highly recommend these short stories read them this May perhaps as a pairing with Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart s delightful memoir of growing up in Russia in the 1970s , and then keep an eye out for what this very talented young author comes up with next With thanks to Caroline Nitz of Henry Holt for sending a copy of the novel I was provided with a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  6. says:

    A novel of linked, though at times the link is subtle, stories set in the Russian town of Magadan Magadan is the city that was the gateway for the Gulags, Stalin s notorious inhumane labor camps The stories weave through the last part of the twentieth century The settings are vivid and the sense of character is tangible The tone is very bleak, but the sense of place and time is outstanding.We can follow the characters thought the changing fates of the town and its people Even those characters who manage to move elsewhere are indelibly marked by their experiences The first story was my favorite, the food lines, rather lines for everything, bandannas and the lily covered dress, are stuck in my memory The author does such a fine job with her detailed descriptions If this is the authors first novel I can just imagine how wonderful will be her next endeavors.ARC from NetGalley.

  7. says:

    Thank you to Henry Holt and Co for letting me read this book in digital format Kseniya Melnik s beautiful Snow in May is an education in how history is routed, refracted, and reconciled inside the human heart In sonorous, evocative prose, the triumphs and tragedies of Magadan are vividly brought to life In 1890, Chekhov traveled to the Russian Far East had he made the journey a century later, and gone a little farther north, these stories may well have been the result Anthony MarraAbsolutely delightful collection of interwoven stories taking place in the Russian port town of Magadan, otherwise known as Gulag country in the Stalin era From musically gifted children to precocious teenagers, from burnt out housewives to memories filled grandfathers, Kseniya Melnik manages to weave a stunning collective history through the adventures and tribulations of these characters, at once colorful and devastating With humor and compassion, with an eerie sense of details and everyday struggles, these stories grow in strength and amplitude the you read along There is a strong sense of accumulated emotional power at play here and the you read about this fantastical, faraway place, the less foreign it feels and the invested you become in the lives of these people They are generous and wise, gritty and desperate, naive and deeply moving.There is something a little magical happening here, at the heart of the Russian Far East as it is brought to life by a ferocious new talent.

  8. says:

    As the author, I ve read this book one too many times, I d say I give myself 5 stars for the effort for all those missed hours of TV watching I seem to not have embarrassed my family too much with this book Onward

  9. says:

    Not so much a collection of short stories as an assemblage of linked events.Each segment is preceded simply by the year in which it takes place All are about people in or from Magadan, a harsh, cold and bleak city, former site of Stalin s gulags Each story feels like a glimpse into the past of a relative indeed, many of them are presented as someone telling of their past experiences The characters we gain these visions of are all connected related although it s not always immediately obvious who s whoI liked the format I liked the writing I appreciated the vivid scene setting, and I felt for the people portrayed I also felt that it s highly likely that these were, perhaps, the author s own family stories At times, though, I felt like the book was making a bit of an effort to hit all of the American stereotypes about Russia and Russians borscht, standing in lines, longing for the West, regimentation, ballet dancers, chess clubs, mail order brides, Party membership etc Yes, it gave a view from the other side to these things but I still kind of wished there was a bit And the book as a whole was, for me, a bit too bleak to be wholly enjoyable.A quote Krucina was an archaic word for grief, found in the old folk songs and poems Krucina grief was not regular sadness or disappointment with everyday troubles, but rather the existential sorrow about a woman s lot Overall, the book is not specifically about a woman s lot there are men, woman and children here but through the detailing of small, everyday disappointments, betrayals and griefs, the work as a whole transcends them and speaks to this greater, existential grief that is in the author s view , something intrinsic to Russia.Copy provided by NetGalley Many thanks to them, and the publisher.

  10. says:

    Nine short stories linked to remote fishing port of Magadan also the former gateway to Stalin labor camps Colorful characters, history revealed through fable and lore Marriage, love, envy, all addressed in an affecting and sweeping manner Wonderful collection.

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