Writing about Russians is a difficult business. The world of Russian literary fiction has a distinguished heritage that exists almost in its own separate universe, joined to the rest of the fiction world in the same way that Star Trek aliens look like humans: they may look the same, but the eyebrows are a bit off, the ears too pointy, and they bleed green blood. Writing my novel Losers, about Russian Jewish immigrant geeks, felt less like a process of writing than a process of translation: of taking ideas that were universal, and filtering them through an outlook and a set of experiences that are very definitely not.
Last Friday, Sana Krasikov won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish fiction. Her debut collection of short stories, One More Year, lives in the tenuous border between the two. These stories are about immigrants, about being displaced, thinking in a foreign language, and just plain being weirded out by the world around you. Her protagonists are fiercely private and eminently relatable: “Companion” (read it) conflates the experience of being an alien with being a single woman. “The Alternate” tells the strange and awkward relationship that follows an immigrant meeting the daughter of the woman he used to be in love with in Russia. “The Repatriates” (read it) is about a couple trapped between Russia and America by business and indecisiveness.
I once read in the letters column to a science fiction magazine, a postscript: “Sorry for the long letter, but I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” The stories in One More Year, exemplifies that quality: the thought, craft, and sustained intensity of single moments that build together to form a searing, breathless, and sometimes scathing narrative. Stories like these are mini-novels, leaps of character and faith that, even in their brevity, travel the distance between entire worlds. Here, Krasikov talks about her tiny worlds, painting, and writing characters in a language that neither she nor they grew up speaking.
Did you start writing the stories in One More Year as individual stories, or as a collection? When did the idea of a book start to materialize?