LOVE LIKE WATER, LOVE LIKE FIRE
By Mikhail Iossel
In a memorable second from Mikhail Iossel’s new assortment of linked tales, “Love Like Water, Love Like Fire,” the narration skips from the 1984 demise of Yuri Andropov, chief of the Soviet Union, to a drunken guard at the Kretovsky Island Amusement sector, who philosophizes: “As long as there’s death, there’s hope. That’s something always to look forward to. Don’t lose heart — there’s tunnel at the end of the light.” To an American reader, this would possibly appear to be straight irony, however Iossel excels find the metaphysics of the tunnel.
The narrator of the guide, the identical in every story, was educated as an engineer however now works as a night time guard, spending lengthy winter hours listening to the forbidden BBC. He is alone, and but, as a Jew in the anti-Semitic U.S.S.R., he feels the world rush in from each course, starting even when the narrator remains to be a baby listening to his mother and father as they educate him in the methods of the Soviet world.
As the narrator learns about Soviet life, so, too, does the reader. In one story, “A Soviet Twelve Days of Christmas,” Iossel spends 5 pages logging examples of what may very well be bought for 120 rubles monthly, a typical wage in the Soviet Union. (6,000 pay-phone calls or 1,333 paper cups of ice cream or 73 bottles of sunflower oil, and many others.) The record could be exhausting if it weren’t hilarious and unhappy by turns, and Iossel makes use of this granular accounting to construct a riveting picture of the absurdity of the Soviet financial system, and the many awkward tendernesses which might be however discovered there, as people attempt to stay collectively in a world that prizes mistrust.
From this assortment, you’ll learn to make little codes from phone rings to keep away from the Ok.G.B., find out how to converse in the presence of public officers, find out how to be a Jew in the Soviet Union. For this reviewer, one other Jew who grew up in the U.S.S.R., Iossel’s descriptions ring very true. He is a grasp of environment. But my favourite moments in the guide have little to do with the Soviet actuality it depicts, and all the pieces to do with particular person human experiences like the ironic and tender portrait in the story “Blue,” the place a blind man recollects how he misplaced his sight years in the past, straining to see in his cell at night time whereas writing poems to an imaginary love. The man recollects being in a gulag, but it surely’s the sort of story that would have additionally come from a refugee camp on the United States-Mexico border or from Lukashenko’s Belarus — it’s a practically common fable of craving that exists outdoors of time and place. Another story, “First Death,” is equally beautiful, describing in 10 pages of lovely symphonic prose the story of a younger narrator touring throughout Leningrad to go to a dying relative. It is the finest story of a baby’s first encounter with demise that I’ve learn in lots of a 12 months.
By the finish of the assortment, Iossel succeeds in giving an insider’s view of the Soviet Union, however shared by the outsider perspective of a barely bemused man now residing distant. What distinguishes Iossel as a author, apart from his apparent expertise for atmospheric dramedy, is his lucid, musical prose fashion. Despite his darkish humor, metaphysical asides and absurdist turns — or possibly as a result of of them — his tales are delightfully simple to learn; Iossel’s marvelous sense of rhythm dazzles the reader. We can’t cease turning the pages of this guide, it doesn’t matter what sort of tunnel would possibly await us at the finish of the mild.