The Russ­ian Dream­book of Col­or and Flight

Gina Ochsner
  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

In a sur­re­al, bar­ren land­scape, three fam­i­lies (Jew­ish, Chris­t­ian, Moslem) strug­gle to sur­vive phys­i­cal­ly, men­tal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and spir­i­tu­al­ly. Off­stage, end­less war is being fought — against whom, nobody knows— maybe them­selves? The unre­al­i­ty is under­scored by the fig­ure of Olga, a trans­la­tor’ (cen­sor) for a mil­i­tary news­pa­per, whose job is to recast events in a non-fright­en­ing way— there are no casu­al­ties, Rus­sia is win­ning.… Her only son returns dam­aged from one bat­tle and will prob­a­bly be draft­ed again. 

Jux­ta­posed against this vision of a cracked and bro­ken Rus­sia, where every­thing is in short sup­ply but any­thing can be bought, Tanya writes in her dream­book, lyric poet­ry; pur­ple prose; flights of fan­cy. She’s a cre­ative artist whose job is to paste togeth­er cheap imi­ta­tions for a muse­um. One day, wealthy donors arrive from Amer­i­ca; per­haps they will choose this muse­um for their largess. 

Azade is keep­er of the out­door latrine, the building’s only toi­let. Her hus­band becomes a ghost who harass­es the liv­ing, and with the help of fer­al chil­dren, who may or may not be dogs, undoes every effort to clean up their yard and make the prop­er­ty pre­sentable for the Amer­i­can vis­i­tors. The three women and their fam­i­lies must learn to live and love as the ter­rain becomes ever­more bizarre.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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