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Thirst Paperback – November 22, 2011
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Question: Thirst centers on Kostya, a wounded young man who comes home from war broken and jaded. Have you seen battle firsthand? Why did you choose to put yourself inside of the mind of a tortured soldier?
Andrei Gelasimov: I’ve never been to a war, but I was raised in the family of an officer. My grandfather fought against Japanese troops in 1945. He used to tell me a lot about that war, and I was a keen listener. What could be more gripping for a 10-year-old boy? But I wouldn’t say that my book is exactly about war. A bit later, when my grandfather died, there came an understanding that all of us are “tortured soldiers” to a certain extent--including those who never saw any battle or held any weapons in their hands.
Q: The book takes place in and around the Moscow suburbs and deals with veterans of the Chechen War. But the fears, vices, pain, and petty quibbles of Kostya’s friends are universal. Did you imagine this story would be read outside Russia?
AG: At the time, I never thought about such things. I was simply overwhelmed with grief and sorrow for the generation of students born at the end of Soviet era and doomed to redeem sins they never committed. Perhaps there is a universal law according to which innocent boys must suffer greatly for what their fathers did. And these youngsters are sacrificed everywhere, not only in Russia. I don’t think it matters in what language you are trying to tell it.
Q: Kostya’s true talent is drawing. Why did you create a character who is both haunted by images and consoled by them?
AG: Sometimes terrible things happen to us in our lives. But over the course of time, we see that those misfortunes also brought something important, something we wouldn’t get without them. And this duality helps us to comprehend life with more patience and dignity. It’s like an old chest in your grandma’s attic, full of memorable things. But if you want to add something else, there’s no space. You have to lose if you want to gain. You have to be haunted if you are looking for consolation.
Q: How does Thirst compare to your other works, such as The Lying Year and The Gods of the Steppes, which will be released in English next year?
AG: For me, it’s impossible to enter one river twice. New water, new splashes, new me with new shivers--new everything. When I start my next book, I always invent a completely fresh universe from scratch. The Lying Year is an attempt at a humorous and lyric approach to the period of post-Soviet life that was not funny at all in reality. The end of the 1990s in Russia--with all the bandits, poverty, nouveau riche, and all that jazz--was a disaster. Unlike Thirst, that book is about entertainment.
The Gods of the Steppes depicts quite a different world. The action takes place in the Eastern outskirts of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1945, just before the final battle against the Japanese Army in World War II. Nothing funny there at all: great victory, great losses, and local boys dreaming of never-ending war.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is not so much about war as it is expectations in life and how to cope, or at least understand, what fate has served up. Kostya expected a father that was loyal to him and his mother, but instead got something much different. He expected to have his own family, but instead was terribly scared and had to learn how to deal with the life of a scarred man who would not attract women and probably would never have his own family. However, at the same time he is given an exceptional artistic talent. He can fix things that he sees in others and what others have lost.Read more ›
So why bother with this short (just over 100 pages) and often grim and gritty novel? Xenophilia and a taste for inclusivity, would be a couple of good reasons. More on them in a moment.
The story is not a complex one. Taking place over a few weeks and told in the first person, the protagonist Konstantin and two of his Chechnyan War buddies spend a couple of weeks driving around Moscow looking for a fourth war buddy that has disappeared unexpectedly. When the search is resolved, each of the members of the trio returns to his respective life, subtly but significantly deviated from the paths each had been on.
Konstantin introduces himself to us while struggling to find the maximum number of vodka bottles that can be fit into his refrigerator. "All the vodka wouldn't fit in the fridge. First I tried standing the bottles up, and then I laid them on their sides, one on top of the other. The bottles stacked up like transparent fish. Then they hunkered down and stopped clinking. But ten or so just wouldn't fit." Konstantin, who suffered terribly disfiguring burns to his face when the armored personnel carrier that he was in was attacked, is obviously a thirsty man. What exactly he thirsts for is the subject of the novel.Read more ›
Whilst there his Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) is attacked and a hand grenade burns it out. He is mistaken for dead and hence is pulled from the burning wreck last. He has been terribly burned. After recovery he seeks solace in bouts of heavy vodka drinking. He works alone to earn enough money for these alcoholic bouts, his neighbour uses him to scare her son into obedience, I suppose as a sort of living bogey man. He is also in touch with his old comrades and part of the story is taken up with a vodka fuelled search for one who has gone missing.
His life story is also told in flashback, and the narrative is as liquid as the vodka that permeates all of the stories. It does flow despite flitting from childhood, the war and back to the present. There is also quite a bit of dialogue to move the story forward and Konstantin uses his skill for drawing to make things right on paper that are just wrong in the real world.
I must mention Marian Schwartz, she translated this work. Whilst I do not judge her academic credentials, I think that her literal translation in places made some of the passages slightly awkward. At one point someone is told to `move his buns'. I have never heard of that phrase ever, to move your arse or ass would have fitted better. Still that is hardly deal breaker. I read this in one day as it kept pulling me back to the narrative.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
i wanted to enjoy it but i just couldnt get into it... couldnt manage to finish. the translation makes it a bit of an odd read.Published 17 months ago by Rayne
This was a pretty quick book to get through, but the story seemed to be missing a lot You didn't really get to know any of the characters, including the main one. Read morePublished on May 24, 2014 by A. Golden
This book didn't grab me from the start so I deleted it. Seemed boring and maybe even kind of dark.Published on May 14, 2014 by DLKwisco
I'm not crazy about stream of consciousness in a novel. It drew me on into the book, but I doubt that someone who was drunk all the time could have very coherent thoughts.Published on April 30, 2014 by creview
Funny, I am not male. Never enlisted. Hate war. Yet I appreciate this heavy book. It has to be the Slav in me: Cocktail of family dysfunction, stubborn pride, innate wisdom,... Read morePublished on April 20, 2014 by Vesna Rafaty
There are a few authors who's style carries with it a massively powerful efficiency. Salinger, Hemingway, & in this piece Gelasimov. Read morePublished on March 20, 2014 by John A. Brissette