cover image Living Pictures

Living Pictures

Polina Barskova, trans. from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela. NYRB Classics, $17.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-68137-659-2

Poet Barskova (This Lamentable City) delivers a haunting and magnificent debut fiction collection rooted in Leningrad. Drawing on her own experiences as a Leningrad-born immigrant and secret diaries and journals kept by Leningraders, she juxtaposes their memories with suppositions about them, memorializing the WWII siege of the city and its aftermath in emotionally acute prose. “The Forgiver” focuses on Dmitry Maximov, a literature professor whose poems could only be published abroad, while “Hair Sticks” features Marina Malich, wife of the writer Daniil Kharms, who fled the U.S.S.R. for Germany and Venezuela after the Leningrad blockade. Interspersed with these partly historical, partly imagined accounts of the blockade’s survivors are stories of Barskova’s own Leningrad childhood, painful love affairs, and adulthood in the U.S. “A Gallery” narrates a naturalization ceremony in Lowell, Mass., and “Dona Flor and Her Grandmother” profiles a grandmother who tried to teach the narrator “the secrets of ruling the feckless male heart,” not knowing that the boyfriend Barskova was mourning hadn’t left her but was killed in a car accident. This beautiful attempt to reconstruct the lives of the lost, blended with an account of a new life built from the rubble, deserves a wide readership. (Sept.)