December 9, 2012 by markstani
By Oleg Zaionchkovsky (trans. Andrew Bromfield); pub. And Other Stories
I’ve read some great books this year, and if initial forays into the new MAN Asian Prize longlist are anything to go by, there are still more to come. This was my favourite from the consistently excellent ‘And Other Stories’ stable: a rare Russian translation that eschews the stereotypes of macho crime-waves or gulag-lit, and prefers to ebb engagingly through everyday Muscovite life.
It says: A writer is late delivering his novel, unable to write anything uplifting since his wife walked out. All he can produce are notes about the happiness of others. But something draws him into the Moscow lives around him – bringing together lonely neighbours, restoring lost love, and helping out with the building renovations. And happiness seems determined to catch up with him as well…
I say: Zaionchkovsky’s novel.. is a delicate paean to a most indelicate, modern, sprawling, post-Perestroika city. It ebbs and flows through unremarkable lives, and in the process creates a picture of a side of the city that is rarely seen by outsiders. It is this very normality that helps separate it so clearly from its stereotype. ‘Happiness Is Possible’ is both the most Russian of books, and something entirely different.