One More Year
Spiegel & Grau
Sana Krasikov on One More Year
Survival and continuity have always been two halves of the Jewish story. The characters in One More Year had no heroic tasks, doing whatever made it possible for them to survive. And after living by their side for five years, my own survival as an artist no longer feels so perilous. What then is the next chapter? All of us who create eventually discover that pain cannot be our sole source of motivation. Pain pushes, but vision pulls. We are able to go on only if we believe we have something important to share with others.
The necessity of survival has been the unfortunate part of Jewish reality. But it is continuity that has been the primary objective – the preservation of the Jewish people for the sake of our own way of struggling with the momentous, difficult questions of morality, spirituality, and politics. Survival has been the experience; continuity, the larger vision – that force which keeps pulling us toward the possibility of who we can become. To keep Jewishness alive, whether in our practices or in our self-expression, we must believe that the Jewish perspective – with its constant questioning, its values, its moral searching, and its tolerance of contradiction – has something
From the Rohr Judges
Writing briefly, of course, is hardly the same as writing quickly, or easily: effects must be judiciously calculated, narrative information carefully doled out, themes guardedly expressed at the expense of overweighing their tender word count. Krasikov, in this first story collection, has already demonstrated her mastery of this delicate skill. Her canvas is not unfamiliar to recent readers of American Jewish literature: portraits of the new Russian and Georgian immigrants to the United States in the post-Cold War period. But what she does with the ingredients is startlingly fresh: subtle considerations of moral conundrums, of futile hopes, and the calculus of lost possibility. And all of this in clear, short, careful prose which renders it intensely and powerfully readable.
Discussion QuestionsCourtesy of Spiegel & Grau
1. General Discussion
1) In “The Repatriates,” a successful Wall Street professional returns to Russia, whereas in “Maia in Yonkers,” Maia leaves her son in Georgia to earn a living and help support her family. In “Asal,” Gulia abandons a more than comfortable material life to work as a nanny in Manhattan, and in “Better Half” Anya interrupts her education in Russia to work in a diner in upstate New York. Discuss the role that financial decisions play in these stories. How are the characters’ motivations different from those of other immigrant characters you’ve read about? What motivations aside from financial ones drive them? Do the stories address a larger theme or message about the role money plays in our life decisions?
2) Most of the stories in One More Year are about women in relationships that are unresolved in some way or that require certain sacrifices and compromises. Do you see a similar vein through all of the stories? Discuss a common thread with respect to the theme of compromise in relationships.
1) When Ilona thinks about the waiter at Delmonico’s referring to her and Earl as Mr. Brauer and Mrs. Brauer, she thinks: “Did she really look old enough to pass for his wife? Or were they playing the game, too? Well, it didn’t matter to her what those people believed, whether they thought she was his wife or his girlfriend or his mistress. She was happy to cooperate with whatever public fantasy he had planned.” How does the idea of “public fantasies” operate in this story? Do you believe Ilona when she says it doesn’t matter to her what “those people” believe? What are some other “public fantasies” that people you know perpetuate, passively or actively, in their relationships with others?
2) What roles do gossip and innuendo play in the story? In what sense is Ilona’s situation less scandalous than the rumors? In what ways more desperate? How does Ilona compare to nineteenth-century heroines such as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Anna Karenina, or Madame Bovary? In what ways is she similar to or different from these women?
3. “Maia in Yonkers”
1) After speaking with her sister, Maia wonders, “must every simple decency now be counted?” How is this a telling statement about the link between money and familial obligation in the story? What are the ways in which these “obligations” get outsourced in both families?
2) Gogi is very particular about the brand-name clothes and electronics he wants his mother to send him. He’s infatuated with a hip-hop style, but when he overhears two black teenagers talking on the ferry, he surprises Maia with a racist comment. Do you see Gogi as prejudiced, or does his statement reveal more complex feelings about visiting the United States? In what other ways is his behavior surprising to Maia? In what ways does he seem younger than the image he projects?
3) The word “Deda” means mother in Georgian. Gogi calls Maia “Deda” at the end of the story but otherwise uses her first name. Discuss their relationship. Do you think Gogi has learned anything by the end of the story?
4. “The Alternate”
1) What does Victor expect from his meeting with his old lover’s daughter? Why is he determined to meet her?
2) What roles do ambition and envy play in this story? In what ways have Victor’s aspirations been frustrated by life? Do you think it’s possible for a person like Victor to be happy? Do you think he has any regrets?
1) Gulia feels “invisible” in New York. Walking down the street, she realizes that people are not looking at her and “seeing a servant,” but that they also don’t care about her at all. How does Gulia’s new anonymity influence her thinking and behavior? How is a metropolis like New York liberating for her? How is it disorienting?
2) Gulia tells Vlad that the Soviets would have punished open polygamy, but “now it is like time is moving backward.” What does she mean by this? In what ways are Gulia and Nasrin, though only 5 years apart in age, representative of two different eras?
3) Do you see Rashid as manipulative or do you find him sympathetic? Does he feel as trapped as Gulia and Nasrin or is he alone responsible for his actions?
6. “Better Half”
1) Do you see Anya as a victim, as somebody taking control of her life, or as both? How would you characterize her romance with Ryan? Who has more power in the relationship, in your opinion?
2) Various characters, including Nick, Alexis, and Anya’s lawyer, Erin, address Anya in ways she considers patronizing. How does she tolerate their attitudes in order to benefit from them? Can you think of times in your life that you’ve done the same? Discuss the role of class in this story.
1) What are some ways the story’s title applies to the different characters? What are the different types of “debt” at play?
2) Why does Lev’s wife, Dina, distrust Sonya’s precociousness? Is her assessment fair?
8. “The Repatriates”
1) The theme of “cons” looms throughout “The Repatriates.” What are the large and small ways people con one another in this story? What do you think about the attitude, expressed in the story, that those who get conned have it coming?
2) How does Grisha’s frustrated ambition compare with Victor’s in “The Alternate”? The exploration of religion and spirituality play a role in both these men’s re-evaluation of their lives. Do you think there is any connection between their spiritual searchings and their respective success or failure in business? Discuss.
3) Do you think there are ways in which Grisha is justified in what he is doing? Do you believe that Lera’s forgiveness of him is genuine? How do you read the last paragraph?
9. “There Will Be No Fourth Rome”
1) Like Gulia in “Asal,” Larissa feels herself at odds with the social changes taking place around her. In what ways are she and Nona mirror opposites of one another? How does Larissa represent a romantic dimension of Russia that is the opposite of the cynical dimension depicted in “The Repatriates”? Do you find Larissa to be a naïve or a romantic character?
2) What do you think of Regina’s use of Dr. Spock as a manual for human behavior? Do you believe that “you can’t change another person’s character, though you can change their behavior?”