November 4, 2011

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

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Spiegel & Grau

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. 

Com­pan­ion”

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? 

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? 

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? 

Asal” 

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? 

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. 

Debt”

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?

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? 

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?” 

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.