[Book Review] Dreams and magic realism, Russian-style

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia

Moscow But Dreaming

Confession time: If I find a novel set in Russia, it’ll find its way onto my shelf or computer. Sometimes reluctantly, sometime with a healthy dose of skepticism, sometimes with a sign of resignation. So I’m pretty delighted to share this review and say that this collection of fantasy short stories set in Russia are a darn great read that feeds both the slavophile in me, but also the part of me that loves a good yarn.

Moscow-born American author Ekaterina Sedia infuses her collection of 21 pieces, two of which are original to the anthology, with a dark, lyrical style and a resonant Russian je ne sais quoi.

Moscow But Dreaming opens with A Short Encyclopedia of Lunar Seas (sample here), a brilliant ode to Russia and its history, before launching itself on a whirlwind tour through time and magic, from the story of an old man who worked for the Soviet secret service, to a noblewoman-turned-storekeeper and her dead suitor, to an American couple who adopt a little girl with a monster under her bed.

Covering the 2oth century, from the Russian revolution to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the the decades following, each story brings something new to the table. Alongside the Russian stories, there are a few Asian-inspired stories as well, paying homage to Russia’s multicultural sprawl across two continents.

Oh, and it’s unabashedly full of magical realism – one of my favorite writing styles. Some bizarre, some surreal, all uncanny, Sedia writes stories full of a kind of inevitable claustrophobia of the slipstream genre. Each story is different, but the (adult) themes of the futility of hope, the inevitability of death, the inability to communicate, and the fragility of family stretches through the collection like an uneasy thread of barbed wire.

I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who shares my love for Russian history. I am slightly more cautious in recommending this to readers who know nothing about Russian culture and history. You’ll probably enjoy the stories, but a lot of the passing references might be lost on you and at least three of the twenty stories might be more bizarre than meaningful.

In the end, count me intrigued!  I will be bumping Sedia’s other books up to the top of my to-read list, so keep an eye out for future reviews.

Complimentary review copy courtesy of Prime Books.

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