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Snow in May: Stories

Snow in May: Stories

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Snow in May: Stories

4/5 (7 valoraciones)
261 página
4 horas
May 13, 2014


A Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of 2014 • Recommended by The New Yorker, The New York Public Library, Alan Cheuse of NPR, Grantland • Shortlisted for the 2014 International Dylan Thomas Prize • Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

A "ruminative…lovely…accomplished" (The New York Times Book Review) and "touching" (The Seattle Times) debut collection of stories that "sparkles with the brilliance and charm of Chekhov." (Simon Van Booy, award-winning author of Love Begins in Winter and The Illusion of Separateness)

Kseniya Melnik's Snow in May introduces a cast of characters bound by their relationship to the port town of Magadan in Russia's Far East, a former gateway for prisoners assigned to Stalin's forced-labor camps. Comprised of a surprising mix of newly minted professionals, ex-prisoners, intellectuals, musicians, and faithful Party workers, the community is vibrant and resilient and life in Magadan thrives even under the cover of near-perpetual snow. By blending history and fable, each of Melnik's stories transports us somewhere completely new: a married Magadan woman considers a proposition from an Italian footballer in '70s Moscow; an ailing young girl visits a witch doctor's house where nothing is as it seems; a middle-aged dance teacher is entranced by a new student's raw talent; a former Soviet boss tells his granddaughter the story of a thorny friendship; and a woman in 1958 jumps into a marriage with an army officer far too soon.
Weaving in and out of the last half of the twentieth century, Snow in May is an inventive, gorgeously rendered, and touching portrait of lives lived on the periphery where, despite their isolation—and perhaps because of it—the most seemingly insignificant moments can be beautiful, haunting, and effervescent.a

May 13, 2014

Sobre el autor

Kseniya Melnik was born in Magadan in the northeast of Russia and immigrated to Alaska in 1998, at the age of fifteen. She earned an MFA from New York University and her work has appeared in Brooklyn Rail, Epoch, Prospect, Virginia Quarterly Review, and was selected for Granta's New Voices series. She lives in El Paso, Texas.

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  • To this day I bite my elbows in regret.

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Snow in May - Kseniya Melnik


Love, Italian Style, or in Line for Bananas


"Grazhdanka, it’s forbidden to sit here. Follow me."

Tanya looked up from her shopping list. The stewardess’s curt demeanor was so incongruous with her childlike face, Tanya felt a swell of pity. Here was someone already kicked around by life, her defenses permanently raised.

Moments earlier, Tanya had sat in one of the open seats directly behind a group of men in identical blue T-shirts and track pants. On an otherwise full airplane, they were buffered both in front and behind by an empty row. Preoccupied with planning the most efficient shopping itinerary for Moscow, Tanya hadn’t given this much thought.

Now she wrestled her frayed carry-on from the overhead compartment and followed the stewardess. The empty rows were puzzling indeed. When she looked back, the blue-T-shirted men grinned at her over the tops of their seats. There was something glossy in their appearance, something one didn’t see in everyday people. With their smooth faces, shiny hair, and lime-white teeth, they looked freshly washed and wrung free of life’s problems.

Tanya’s assigned seat was in the last row, beside a middle-aged couple.

The husband turned to Tanya. The Italian soccer team, he said with enthusiasm. They’re trying to keep us away from them. International security measures, you see. But if seriously, what secrets do they think we could give them? That the country’s short on soap and rope? He snickered. Soap and rope, yes.

Who thinks? The Italians? Tanya said. She’d never seen a foreigner before, not even someone from the Eastern bloc—the so-called Soviet camp—although she’d heard they were easily spotted in the bigger cities. But these were real foreigners, real Westerners. There were separate hotels for them, and shops and restaurants. Separate seats at the Bolshoi Theatre. She felt embarrassed for having sat down behind them now.

"Them. The—"

Sasha, quiet, his wife said, glaring at him as though the plane was bugged by the KGB. And who knew? Maybe it was.

The plane taxied for takeoff from Leningrad, where Tanya had spent five days slumped in a seminar room at the Hermitage. She curated the arts wing of the Regional Museum in her hometown in the northeast and every five years attended these educational programs, required and paid for by the countrywide arts board. During the day, she half listened to lectures on the portrayal of socialist reality through painting and sculpture. In the evenings, she strolled down the Neva embankment, its austere neoclassical buildings the color of cucumber flesh, omelet batter, sour-creamed borsch. What a shame it was that she had to travel so far to see real beauty.

She closed her eyes and thought of all the things she needed to get in Moscow to take back home to Magadan, where the grocery stores weren’t empty but also had no variety. Leningrad, with its theaters and museums, was Russia’s starving artist; the capital was the rich merchant, the pride of the country—a requisite stop for everyone on the way back to the provinces. She and Anton had saved all year for this shopping trip. Baby Pavlik needed a winter coat, and Borya needed a backpack, notebooks, and all the bright school accessories to get him excited about first grade.

Fruits and good vegetables. Avitominosis was common during spring in Magadan. Tanya loved cabbage for its excellent transportability. She’d have to get three or four heads. Juicy southern tomatoes, too, if she could find a sturdy box. Apples, oranges, pears. And maybe something exotic and a little magical to jolt their life, if only for a moment, out of its bread-and-potatoes doldrums. Pineapples or bananas if she was lucky, though even in Moscow they were a rarity. Anton had asked for color film and photo paper, preferably East German. He loved taking pictures on his geological expeditions. She wished she had time for the shopping bus tour that went to all the foreign import stores: Warsaw, Dresden, Budapest, and, of course, Belgrade.

Tanya pulled out Eugene Onegin and opened at the bookmark.

"Ehhhhh. Ciao, bellissima."

She looked up. It was one of the Italian soccer men. His right arm was propped on his hip; the other inched toward her with a piece of paper. He was mockingly handsome—his features oversized, his full lips shiny as though dabbed with olive oil. He stared at her with intensity, the way the blue-cloaked Zephyr looks at Venus in her favorite Botticelli.

A pang of sweet fear seared her stomach.

Ehhhhh. Would like rendezvous, the Italian said.

His arms were tan and muscular, and not at all hairy, as she had expected of Italians. People were turning back to watch. Some even stood up to get a better view.

"Bellissima. Sono Luciano. Per favore, Hotel Rossiya. Eight. The Italian thrust his note at her. She took it, if only to divert the spotlight from herself. He held on to her hand and kissed it wetly. Luciano."

He kissed her hand again and sauntered back to his seat. It wasn’t only his arms that were muscular, she noticed.

Tanya’s neighbors looked at her as though she were a chicken who had suddenly learned to fly. She turned back to Onegin, her face flushed. Not once in her thirty-three years had she been paid such a compliment by a stranger. And from Italy—the birthplace of art and beauty. It was a miracle.

What did he want? asked Tanya’s neighbor, the wife. She hadn’t dared look up from her knitting.

He invited me to meet him at his hotel, I think.

You will go? It’s not illegal, but—

Tanya caught the accusation in the woman’s tone. You must be joking, Tanya said.

It is discouraged. Yes, it is strongly discouraged, the husband whispered. You will be put on a list for observation, if they even let you into that hotel.

I have two children, seven years old and one and a half, Tanya said. A good husband. Nondrinker.

Anton was much more than a nondrinker, of course. Had he been a bachelor, he would have made a perfect personal ad: thirty-five, ethnic Russian, tall, nonsmoker, employed. And he’d never raised a hand to her. Tanya loved him for his decency, for being a good father to her sons. Yet, he’d never looked at her as she thought the Italian had, as if she were a newly discovered Michelangelo painting. Anton told her that she was getting a bit plump and to please bring him his coffee and a piece of cheese, for which she had to stand in line for an hour.

Italians, on the other hand … Don’t make me laugh, please, Tanya thought not without pleasure. She knew all about them from films: Marriage, Italian Style and Divorce, Italian Style. They didn’t have divorce in Italy, and the only way out of marriage was to catch your spouse cheating and then kill him or her to protect your honor. And the lover, too, while you’re at it. The sentence was more lenient for a crime of passion. She tried to remember whether Luciano wore a wedding band.

Luciano Moretti, Hotel Rossiya, 8, the note said in loopy, Rubenesque letters. She peeped out. Luciano was looking at her over his headrest. But thinking rationally: What did a sportsman of international caliber, rich and free, see in a tired, ground-down Soviet woman? She went back to her reading.

*   *   *

An hour later the plane landed in Moscow. The Italians were let off first, followed by the running-of-the-bulls-style disembarkation of everyone else. Tanya got punched in the ribs and her feet were stepped on several times. To her surprise and mortification, the entire soccer team greeted her with cheers and whistles at the arrivals terminal. Luciano, blocked by the large bosom of a peroxide-blond interpreter, sent her a battery of air kisses. Must be weariness from the all-male company, she thought. It won’t be long now, given the women in the Intourist welcoming delegation.

Studying herself in the mirror of the airport bathroom, she felt dismayed by her own credulousness. Her face was red, her mascara had flaked under her boring pale-blue eyes. Her blondish hair, badly in need of a root touch-up, was frizzy in the back, while in the front her bangs were glued to her forehead with sweat. The neckline of her old traveling blouse was hopelessly stretched. Luciano must be blind.

Outside, the spring morning was in full bloom, and Tanya found herself wishing she’d worn a short-sleeved dress to let her skin breathe. To her right stretched an endless taxi line. To her left, a bus was about to depart for central Moscow. Just off the curb, the Italian soccer team was boarding the Intourist van. Luciano waved and cried out, "Otto! Otto, per favore!"

What a peculiar man, Tanya thought. Italians … This was a real cliché. She tried to keep from smiling. She stole one last look at Luciano and ran for the bus, her heavy carry-on banging against her legs. It was almost nine hours until otto, plenty of time to forget about the way he’d looked at her.

*   *   *

Exhausted by the multitransport trip from the airport, Tanya rang the doorbell of Auntie Roza’s fifth-floor kommunalka. They kissed hello. Auntie Roza smelled like Tanya’s late mother, of sugary sweat and fresh-baked bread, scents that calmed Tanya no matter how stressed she was. She noticed that while she’d been in Leningrad, her aunt had given herself a makeover: she’d tweezed her eyebrows down to threads and dyed her graying hair the color of peeled carrot.

Look at you, Auntie. Ten years younger! For the May Day party at work?

Trying to keep up with you.

Me? Flattery was in the air today.

Tanya changed into a pair of house slippers and followed Auntie Roza through the darkened hallway, which branched off into rooms where different families lived. All the doors were closed. Every few steps Tanya bumped into something—boxes, metal-edged trunks, wood boards, a bicycle, a baby stroller, and God knows what else.

Halfway down the hallway they almost collided with Sergeich, who was carrying a bowl of eggs and a packet of sausages to the kitchen.

Good afternoon, Roza Vasilievna. You look wonderful as always. Ah, I see Tanechka is back.

Good afternoon, Mikhal Sergeich. Thank you for the compliment.

He pressed his barrel-shaped body against the wall to let them pass.

Are you hungry? Auntie Roza said when they reached her room.

I want to take a shower, wash off that airplane grime.

Why shower? You’ll be running around dirty Moscow all day. Besides, Ivanova has the bathroom for the next two hours.

When’s your turn?

In the evening, Tanya, in the evening. Weekends are busy, you see, everyone’s home. You rest now while I warm up borsch and cutlets. Auntie Roza opened her fridge and pulled out two pots.

I’ll help. Want to tell you something, you won’t believe.

On their way to the kitchen they ran into a tall, heavyset woman with a column of sooty hair piled on top of her head. Letting her pass, Tanya tripped over the bicycle, and it crashed to the floor with a ring. Fierce yapping started up at the other end of the hallway.

I’m sorry, Tanya said.

To the devil! the woman yelled, gesticulating with a pot of pea soup in front of her heaving bust. That bicycle was new. If it’s broken, you’ll be standing in line for a new one yourself, Roza Vasilievna.

Broken! Auntie Roza came to an instant boil. "You should see your sons ride it down the stairs. First bicycle, then their necks, I’ll say. Broken—tfoo."

That’s none of your business. You better tell your niece here that she turned on our lightbulb when she splashed in the washroom for a whole hour last week, and we now have to pay for that electricity, Pea Soup said. Do I look like a millionaire to you? She’s the one from Magadan here.

And who’s going to pay when your boys steal my—

Sergeich! Pea Soup hollered. How many times do I have to tell you that pets are not allowed in the common areas?

The communal kitchen contained five ovens, five tables, several standing and hanging cupboards, most of them with locks on their doors, and a sea of kitchenware occupying every available surface and wall. The entire space was segmented by bedsheets, towels, and various other laundry articles hanging to dry from a network of ropes. An invisible radio babbled the news. The smells of fried onions, pea soup, and fish fought for airspace. A beautiful young woman with curlers in her bleached hair flew into the kitchen, chirped hello to Auntie Roza, and carried away a whistling kettle.

Auntie Roza turned on the gas and struck a match. Now tell me what happened, Tanechka.

In a half whisper Tanya told her about Luciano.

I’d go, Auntie Roza said.

But you… Her aunt’s husband had left her many years ago, when their children were still in grade school, and she’d never remarried. How will I look Anton in the eye? It’d be so stupid for me to run there like some prostitute. They already have their own, from Intourist, KGB-trained.

Not like a prostitute, Tanya. Like a woman. When will you have a chance to enjoy such an exotic man again? Italians, they’ve got a temper. Anton is a good man, I’m not arguing. But … he’s Anton. He’ll be there on that couch for all eternity. Go, enjoy. Could be your last chance. I met, once, in Bulgaria, a certain engineer … Bulgarians love Russians, you know. Auntie Roza pressed her ringed hand to her chest, which was rosy and laced with delicate spiderwebs of wrinkles. It struck Tanya as incredibly beautiful—and this, too, reminded her of her mother. She was overcome by a desire to rest her head on Auntie Roza’s soft shoulder—to forget about Luciano and her obligations to her family.

He was tall, very good-looking. Such beautiful black eyebrows, Auntie Roza continued. I didn’t go, I was a good wife. To this day I bite my elbows in regret.

The bedsheets next to them moved.

What, Sergeich? Spying on us? Auntie Roza said.

Sergeich emerged from behind his cover. Balding, with a stained undershirt stretched over his paunch and a grouchy expression, he seemed to have stepped out of the dictionary entry for "kommunalka neighbor, male."

Err … Roza Vasilievna, would you be so kind as to spare a pinch of salt. I’m all out. His bite-sized white poodle twirled around his feet.

Oh, you should have listened, Auntie Roza said, holding out her salt dish.

Sergeich blushed. You—he addressed both of them, his tone philosophical—you womenfolk are odd. I want to say… He dove under the sheets to his oven, then reappeared and returned the salt. First you complain… He looked at the floor and said through his teeth, One simply cannot understand women, and it’s your own fault. He pouted his thin, lilac lips.

My dear Mikhal Sergeich. Don’t get so upset. Like all normal people, women just want a little corner of happiness. Auntie Roza smiled coquettishly and threw the poodle a piece of her cutlet.

If it were me, I’d be careful with the foreigners. Sergeich looked in Tanya’s direction. "There’s a reason why the State wants to keep us regular citizens away. It’s for our own protection. I’ve never met any real foreigners myself, but I’ve heard such stories—ogogo!"

What stories? Tanya asked.

Well, I heard from a friend of a friend who knows someone who’s friends with one of the Party kids. You know, they all travel to the West like it’s Crimea. So, that particular comrade lived in America for a year and he said that they have special pornography schools there. Sergeich made a sour face at Auntie Roza. They teach … technique and some kind of philosophy of love there, as if it could be taught. He hit his chest. It’s amoral and it’s expensive. They don’t have free education there, so not everyone can attend. Those who do, you know, they have to bring a partner. They don’t have to be married, and—can you imagine?—it doesn’t even have to be a woman for a man. You know what I mean? They study special books and have homework assignments, also class demonstrations. As if it was some woodworking class!

Pea Soup barged into the kitchen, tore through the bedsheets, and yelled out of the window: Kolya! Grisha! Lunch is ready. March home on the double! The poodle began to yap again. Pea Soup squatted down and clapped her big hands right by the dog’s flappy ears.

"Don’t you dare do that again, grazhdanka! Sergeich yelled after Pea Soup. Tak, where was I? These so-called students learn to hold—well, you know what I’m talking about—for a whole hour and sometimes more. And during the, the … during this, they see God. Yes, God. It is insulting to me even as a nonbeliever. But this is in America, I don’t know about Italy. Or Bulgaria." Tanya thought she saw Sergeich wink at Auntie Roza.

Are you sure it’s not the yogis in India? Tanya said.

An orgasm for an hour? That would finish Comrade Brezhnev right off. Auntie Roza laughed, a beautiful, throaty trill. Sergeich’s face was completely purple now. Those Americans must have a lot of free time. Italians, on the other hand, they don’t need any special schools. They have passion in their blood.

"Now is not Yezhovshchina, of course, but it never hurts to be careful, Sergeich whispered, then in full voice: Remember that the State disapproves of intermingling with foreigners. It’s for our own protection, Tanya."

But what could happen?

Sergeich stared at her with incredulity.

Tanya envisioned Luciano’s shapely olive arms. Her skin prickled.

Every room in the hotel is bugged by the KGB. You may get accused of spying, that’s what. Arrested, Sergeich said. Or you could get recruited to spy on the Italians.

Mikhal Sergeich, my darling, what are you talking about? First of all, this is a onetime thing. Second, she’s not going there to talk. Auntie Roza finally gave him the smile he’d been waiting for.

Spying … I don’t have time for a second career, Tanya said, a little exhilarated just thinking of the idea.

The women picked up their pans of food and went to eat in Auntie Roza’s room.

Don’t listen to him, Tanechka. Listen to me, Auntie Roza said, meeting Tanya’s eyes over the perfect nostalgic borsch.

*   *   *

The giant Children’s World department store stood across the square from Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters. Entering the first floor, with its marble columns, a sparkling double-decker carousel, and endless rows of toys still gave Tanya the same thrills she’d felt here as a child on her family’s transits through Moscow. Practical things first, Tanya said to herself, and marched up to a line that started at the base of the stairs. She took her spot at the tail and tapped the woman in front of her on the shoulder.

What are we standing for? Tanya asked.

Finnish snowsuits.

God help us. What number?

The woman showed Tanya her palm with 238 written on it in pen. Tanya pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote on her own palm: 239.

The woman’s cheekbones were beautifully pronounced, convex like the bowls of soupspoons. And where are you from? she asked Tanya in a soft, friendly voice.

Too nice for a Muscovite.

From Vladivostok, Tanya lied.

Magadan was famous for having been the entry point to the cruelest of Stalin’s network of camps. People might think her parents had sat there; and if they were arrested, then there must’ve been a reason. Now people were paid good money to live in the northeast. It wasn’t a good idea to advertise either.

And you?

Odessa. I’m buying the snowsuit for my relatives in Arkhangelsk.

While they chatted about children and tricks for procuring this or that defitsit item, the line crawled up the stairs. The woman’s name was Zina. Tanya also made friends with a man behind her, Denis from Sverdlovsk, and asked him to hold her place. In the shoe department on the third floor, she was lucky to happen upon some Yugoslavian winter boots. She got two pairs, two sizes too big for the boys to grow into. For now, she’d sew a little pouch of wool inside the

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  • (4/5)
    This collection of stories by Kseniya Melnik is a strong first effort. The stories are set in Magadan, a gateway to Stalin's forced labor camps in far eastern Siberia. They take place throughout the twentieth century, showing changes to the town and its people. Melnik tells her stories with both humor and compassion. The people who live in this isolated place want the same basic things we all want; life is just much harder, colder, with scarce food. In the stories, we also see the importance of art in people's lives.Melnik is especially skillful with younger narrators. Despite the hard living conditions, the kids carry on. My favorite stories were two with young narrators: Dima in "The Uncatchable Avengers" and Sonya in "Summer Medicine." In "The Untouchable Avengers," Dima is playing a Tchaikovsky tune for a recital that is being taped. He knows the song but has a hard time concentrating, being distracted by a club he is forming for superheroes. In "Summer Medicine," Sonya, a recurring character, fakes illness so she can be admitted to the hospital. She thinks the experience will help her become a better doctor. In all of the stories, the humor and warmth help to mitigate the hardship of the place. I will definitely look for more by Melnik.
  • (3/5)
    Not so much a collection of short stories as an assemblage of linked events.
    Each segment is preceded simply by the year in which it takes place. All are about people in or from Magadan, a harsh, cold and bleak city, former site of Stalin's gulags. Each story feels like a glimpse into the past of a relative - indeed, many of them are presented as someone telling of their past experiences. The characters we gain these visions of are all connected; related - although it's not always immediately obvious who's who...
    I liked the format. I liked the writing. I appreciated the vivid scene-setting, and I felt for the people portrayed. (I also felt that it's highly likely that these were, perhaps, the author's own family stories.) At times, though, I felt like the book was making a bit of an effort to hit all of the American stereotypes about Russia and Russians: borscht, standing in lines, longing for the West, regimentation, ballet dancers, chess clubs, mail-order brides, Party membership... etc. Yes, it gave a 'view from the other side' to these things - but I still kind of wished there was a bit more...

    And - the book as a whole was, for me, a bit too bleak to be wholly enjoyable.

    A quote: "'Krucina' was an archaic word for grief, found in the old folk songs and poems. 'Krucina' grief was not regular sadness or disappointment with everyday troubles, but rather the existential sorrow about a woman's lot."

    Overall, the book is not specifically about a woman's lot - there are men, woman and children here - but through the detailing of small, everyday disappointments, betrayals and griefs, the work as a whole transcends them and speaks to this greater, existential grief that is (in the author's view?), something intrinsic to Russia.

    Copy provided by NetGalley. Many thanks to them, and the publisher.
  • (4/5)
    Nine short stories linked to remote fishing port of Magadan also the former gateway to Stalin labor camps. Colorful characters, history revealed through fable and lore. Marriage Russia, love, envy, all addressed in an affecting and sweeping manner. Wonderful collection.
  • (5/5)
    This is a beautiful collection of stories. All are centered on the Siberian city of Magadan, and take place from the Soviet era through the present. Some characters appear in multiple stories, though the connections are subtle. I had never heard of Magadan before reading this book. In the furthest reaches of eastern Siberia, it was infamous because it was where prisoners released from the gulag often settled. Despite this connection, this book is no day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. This is a collection that deals with daily life, but not that of prisoners. Instead, it looks at the lives of those living in remotest Russia as they deal with the problems of the Soviet Union and its aftermath. Their days are consumed with managing shortages, communal apartments, and grander efforts to perpetuate the great Russian arts. Melnik dives deep into the lives of Magadan's residents, and I couldn't help but wonder if her portrayal of Sonia was not at least somewhat autobiographical. Melnik moves her stories deftly across localized groups and cultures, ranging from ballroom dancing to witchcraft, and her characters cut across ages and genders. Those who enjoy finding beauty and tragedy in everyday life will enjoy this book. I was fascinated to read about the remote regions of eastern Siberia. I hope to read more from Melnik in the future.
  • (3/5)
    Snow in May is a lovely collection of short stories of Russia. This book is filled with love, life, loss, surviving, and innocence.The location for these stories being in Russia was great. It added depth to the stories. While, I thought they were all good, there were some that I enjoyed better than others. For example: Love, Italian style, or in line for bananas. Strawberry lipstick, Rumba, Summer Medicine, and Our upstairs neighbor. I connected more with the people in these stories and their story. Although again because I did like these stories and not because they were short make this book a speedy read. Anyone that likes short stories or reading about stories in other countries should check this book out.
  • (4/5)
    I received a review copy of this book. This collection of short stories are situated in Magadan, a remote northeastern corner of Russia, famed more for the gulags located there than for the normal life of its residents. But these stories are not about the gulag, or only tangentially, for some people who came as prisoners stayed to build a life here. Characters and situations lightly reappear among the stories. The author moved from this area to America as a teenager. She indicates the year of the events at the beginning of each story and it interested me the the time frames covered a much wider scope than her life experience would offer. This indicates to me that she must be in a family of storytellers. This has served her well as each story inhabits its time quite skillfully. She captures a sense of ordinary life and its problems in the midst of an extraordinary place. I'd recommend this book both for its interesting setting and its insights into its characters.
  • (4/5)
    This debut collection of short stories was engrossing! Each protagonist is linked in some manner to the city of Magadan in Russia, gateway to the Gulag, and also the author's home until age 15. Each story was a poignant portrait of a life of yearning, a life of dreams fulfilled or not, and seemed to somehow give a sense of dipping one's toe in the water of someone else's life. I was left with wonderment at the amount of time in any lifetime spent yearning.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this collection of short stories, particularly when I had read a few and realized that they were all connected somehow. Some of the connections were really brief so I found myself flipping back to earlier stories to confirm that there was a link. As in most collections, some stories were better than others, but generally, I think this is very well written.
  • (3/5)
    Snow in May was an enjoyable read on many levels. The connection of characters through the common hometown of Magadan, the rich overlay of Russian heritage, and the insights that really brought some characters to life all added up to a unique and worthwhile collection of stories. Kseniya Meinik is at her best when she lets the characters' lives take the forefront, so that she frequently dips into lengthy expositions is disappointing. Some characters are bit too contrived for me, as well. Overall, a good read, especially for anyone who enjoys Russian literature, but not a favorite for me.
  • (4/5)
    A novel of linked, though at times the link is subtle, stories set in the Russian town of Magadan. Magadan is the city that was the gateway for the Gulags, Stalin's notorious inhumane labor camps. The stories weave through the last part of the twentieth century. The settings are vivid and the sense of character is tangible. The tone is very bleak, but the sense of place and time is outstanding.We can follow the characters thought the changing fates of the town and its people. Even those characters who manage to move elsewhere are indelibly marked by their experiences. The first story was my favorite, the food lines, rather lines for everything, bandannas and the lily covered dress, are stuck in my memory. The author does such a fine job with her detailed descriptions. If this is the authors first novel I can just imagine how wonderful will be her next endeavors.ARC from NetGalley.
  • (5/5)
    Snow in May is many short stories that are interwoven with each other. The town of Magadan is where the stories take place. I enjoyed the storiies and the dictionary of russian terminology in the back of the book. Over all this was a dark book reflecting on the location.
  • (5/5)
    Kseniya Melnik's Snow in May is a beautifully written, evocative collection of interrelated short stories. The characters, many of whom belong to the same family, are all connected to Magadan, Melnick's home town, which is in the northeast portion of Russia. When Stalin was in power, Magadan was the gateway to the dictator's hated and feared network of prison camps. The landscape is beautiful and the land has vast mineral wealth, but the climate is inhospitable and cold all year around. In Magadan, snow in May is not just a metaphor.The people of isolated, frozen Magadan work hard to maintain their connection to the broader Russian culture. As these stories reveal, music and dance are particularly important to them.I don't know anything about the author beyond the brief blurb on the back of the book, but I suspect these stories are autobiographical, with the character of Sonia standing in for the author herself. The story of Vadim Makim, told in "Our Upstairs Neighbor", is certainly based on that of Vadim Kozin, a popular Russian vocalist who, according to Wikipedia, was sent to a labor camp on the pretext that he insulted Stalin, but in reality because of his alleged homosexuality.In a way, I wish Melnik had written this book as a multi-generational novel or memoir instead of as a short-story collection, so that the connections among the characters would have been easier for me as a reader to keep in mind. As it was, I could have used a chart that would help me keep track of characters and their appearances in the stories.Nonetheless, I enjoyed this collection and look forward to reading Melnik's future works.
  • (4/5)
    An enjoyable collection of short stories, most set in remote Magadan in northeastern Russia and many set in the Soviet era. What struck me the most about these stories was the plight of the women. Many are stuck in dysfunctional marriages, due to alcoholism or gambling or some combination of the two. Even the "good" husbands in these stories were good only insofar as they had no obvious vices. The bulk of the family-raising and income-earning fell to the women and they did the best that they could to provide for their families, often under pretty trying living conditions. Even then, Melnik shows us that we Americans are not so different from our Soviet counterparts in our daily lives. I hope she'll continue to write!
  • (5/5)
    As a Soviet expat, I read this book of stories with a strange mixture of nostalgia and relief. I found I could relate to a lot in it. But it's not just that. Kseniya Melnik's writing as such is very captivating, not without humor, sensitive, and, due to the haunting memories of political prisoners of the region described - poignant. Her metaphors are beautiful, while at the same time hitting the mark precisely and making you sit back and say to yourself: "ahh, nicely said!..." (like this, for instance: "...was caught in memory like a fly in amber", and many more). Ms. Melnik draws her fiction from her memories growing up in post Soviet Russia and, since she immigrated to US at the tender age of 15, also from reminiscences of her immediate family - parents, grandparents, whose help she gratefully acknowledges and who, along with her, are featured in most of the stories. She gives such fresh life to those reminiscences - as if she actually were present there, years before she was born. I highly recommend the book.
  • (4/5)
    The matryoshka doll on the cover is perfect for Kseniya Melnik's Snow in May. Like all short story collections I've had the pleasure to read, the stories are not equally weighted. There are some I love and some I think are only okay. In Snow in May, the best stories are found at the middle, nested between the rest, waiting to be found and bring joy to the one who loosened their casing.The opening stories didn't impress me. The problem, I felt, was that the narrative style was much too summarizing. Events and back story were encapsulated within long meandering texts that did not in themselves move. As far as style, the stories were akin to oral tales passed down through the generations, being told by your grandpa. Some of these stories could've been fleshed out, descriptive text could've been acted out, and these tales could've been made into novels themselves. As they were, I found them to be tiring.But then the surprises come, the stories that are smallest in scope: a boy at a piano recital, a girl in a dance class. These stories, “The Uncatchable Avengers” and “Rumba,” didn't have the broad scope that their predecessors had. They were tiny dolls at the center with all the heart. They were funny, heartbreaking, and thoroughly entertaining. They were two of the best short stories I've read in some time.Moving away from these, the stories once again became broader and broader until the end, when the final story is a grandpa telling a story to his granddaughter. Ironic. Having already seen what was at the center, however, these stories didn't bother me as much as the first few. I'd found the joy at the center, and I was happy I'd read the book if for no other reason than these two stories.
  • (4/5)
    I’m not always one for short fiction but I was mostly enchanted by the beautiful writing, moving characters, and fascinating almost other-world setting of these linked stories. Magadan is in a frigid far-flung eastern corner of the Soviet Union/Russia, not so far from Alaska, and while it was made notorious by its connection to Stalin’s forced-labor camps afterward it became home to an eclectic mix of artists, professionals, faith healing witches, ex-prisoners, musicians, intellectuals, and Party faithful. It’s this lively, intriguing group of people who populate the book.The stories move back and forth in time, from 1958 to 2012, with evocative scenes of the daily lives, loves, struggles, reflections, and ambitions of these Soviet and then Russian citizens--a few of whom immigrate the short distance across the sea to America--as they coped with snow, shortages, difficult spouses, tempting propositions, and a changing world. Adults featured in one sometimes show up as children or grandchildren or secondary characters in another, which is fun to spot, layering the stories like nesting matryoshka dolls. Author Kseniya Melnik excels at creating characters that draw you into their narratives and touch you with their earnest, imperfect humanness. Some of their observations are just wonderful, for instance in the story Rumba an aging dance instructor compares the passage of time to a brilliant caricaturist, shrinking the eyes, ripening the nose, and drooping the jowls. Individual pieces are the right length to be comfortably read in one sitting. Melnik has created gem-like collection of stories, multi-layered and affecting.
  • (5/5)
    An unforgettable novel that illustrates the struggles between a city, with an infamous reputation, and it's people. Melnik's portrayal falls just short of flawless.   Her writing is rich and evocative, and provides the reader with a tangible sense of landscape and characters. There is depth and grace to the narrative that reveals keen insight well beyond the author's years. The result is a moving collection of short stories that captures the soul of its people, and the healing of a ragged land.    
  • (5/5)
    Having a tendency towards enjoying Russian literature I was thrilled to receive a copy of Kseniya Melnik’s Snow In May. While Melnik no longer lives in Magadan, a city well known as the gateway to Stalin’s forced labor camps, her short stories all take place in Magadan. Snow in May is an exceptional look into one town during various time periods in history and into very different lives. Melnik’s stories are beautiful, tender, sad, funny, and deeply moving. I enjoyed Snow in May immensely and would not hesitate to recommend Melnik’s book to any reader or book discussion group.
  • (4/5)
    Most of the nine stories in this collection are set in the port town of Magadan in the far east of Russia. The others are about people who have a connection to the town. The stories cover a wide time range including soviet and post-Soviet years. The earliest is set in 1958, the latest in 2012. During the Soviet era the town was a gulag portal and many of the people in these stories have connections to that era.The characters include a dance instructor (in Rhumba, the most predictable of the stories), a once famous tenor consigned to the labor camp, a young wife shopping on a trip to Moscow for a conference, and a young girl taken by her mother and grandmother to a healer witch.There is a blend of folklore, history, and the reality of adjustments from the Soviet time and also (in Closed Fracture and Kruchina) immigration to the United States.This is a really superb collection from a talented young author who was born in Magadan and who immigrated to Alaska when a teenager. These are wonderful stories, I can’t pick a favorite.