First Language(s): Russian
Second Language(s): English
Born and raised in eastern Siberia, I came to the US at the age of 23. At 24, I was long-listed for the Russian literary award “Debut” and published a short story in Russian. I now live with my wife in Madison, WI, where I teach undergraduate courses in Russian and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
What was your favorite book as a child?
If by “favorite book” you mean an exclusive literary obsession, my first was probably my father's old Soviet Dictionary of Foreign Words (they had those specifically for non-Slavic Russian vocabulary). And then throughout my teens: Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” in Russian translation, Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog”, and Jorge Luis Borges’ “Fictions” (also in Russian translation). The one book from that time that had the most lasting effect was a bilingual edition of Vladimir Nabokov’s Russian and English novels (“Pnin” and “The Gift”), stories, and poetry, with Alexander Dolinin’s Russian commentary.
Do you remember the original reason or motivation why you started writing creatively?
I believe it had something to do with the fact that I grew up in a world that prefers silence to words. I wanted to help my identity survive by articulating it. I wanted to become me. And then I wanted to become someone else. And then, with the advent of the age of post-truth and surveillance capitalism, I realized that fiction can be a way to connect and resist.
What was the most adventurous or thrilling thing you ever did/experienced?
Leaving home: my hometown, Russia, the Russian language, etc.
Do you listen to music while reading or writing?
I usually don’t listen to anything while reading or writing, primarily because I try to sound words out in my head and don’t want anything to interfere with the rhythm and flow of the phrase. But sometimes I work in a coffee shop, and then music is a good cover for people-watching and -listening. When I have to mention a piece of music in my writing, I will listen to it to get the mood right.
In Memory of the Beaches of Siberia
Issue Spring '20