cover image Not Russian

Not Russian

Mikhail Shevelev, trans. from the Russian by Brian James Baer and Ellen Vayner. Europa, $17 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-60945-811-9

The sardonic and incisive English-language debut from Russian journalist and novelist Shevelev imagines a massive hostage situation in a church outside Moscow. In 2015, disenchanted newspaper journalist Pavel Volodin, whose present concerns involve whether he and his wife should install a TV in the kitchen (“Obviously, it would be better to throw the television off the balcony considering what’s on it,” Pavel narrates), is called into action when the terrorist occupying the church and holding 100 people hostage demands to speak to him. The terrorist is Vadik Seryegin, whom Pavel met in 1998 during negotiations between Russia and Chechnya. He also helped bring Vadik, a Russian prisoner of war, back to Russia—winning a little celebrity for himself in the process. In between Pavel’s series of trips to the church to speak with Vadik during the crisis, Shevelev traces the effects /of Putin’s political decisions on the country and on the two men’s lives (Vadik’s disaffection with Russian politics and Pavel’s increasing cynicism) and gradually fleshes out Vadik’s sole demand, which is for Putin to apologize for all the wars. While the frequent references to contemporary Russian figures will be lost on casual readers, Shevelev does a great job distilling recent history into a tragic human drama. This is worth a look. (Oct.)