cover image Little Foxes Took Up Matches

Little Foxes Took Up Matches

Katya Kazbek. Tin House, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-953534-02-6

Kazbek debuts with a lovely bildungsroman set during and after the downfall of the U.S.S.R. Mitya Noskov, born in 1986, grows up with his pedestrian parents and crafty grandmother, the latter keeping a stash of candy, caviar, and liquor for bribing various officials. At two, Mitya swallows his grandmother’s sewing needle, a situation similar to a classic Russian folktale, Koschei the Deathless, who hid a so-called “death needle” to obtain immortality. As Mitya’s life unfolds, a parallel fantasy about Koschei is interspersed as both characters navigate their own versions of heaven and hell. At five, Mitya secretly puts on his grandmother’s makeup, and as he grows up, he continues to buck the strict gender conventions of 1990s Moscow. A few years later, a cousin, Vovka, comes to live with them and sexually abuses Mitya. As a young man, Mitya befriends Valerka, a homeless man who doesn’t bat an eye at seeing Mitya dressed as a woman. When Valerka disappears, Mitya sets out to discover what happened, venturing into the world of street people, where he’s accepted for the first time by peers. Kazbek’s clever juxtaposition of Koschei’s tale with Mitya’s amid the upheaval in Moscow makes this an ingenious coming-of-age story where a queer boy finds comfort and hope. Readers will be enchanted. Agent: Jin Auh, Wiley Agency. (Apr.)