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Thirst Paperback – November 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Q&A with Andrei Gelasimov

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.

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?

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.

From Booklist

His face burned away in the war in Chechnya, Kostya stuffs his fridge with vodka bottles and leaves the apartment only to help Olga next door scare her kid into good behavior. But when his comrade Seryoga disappears, Kostya reluctantly reunites with his army buddies, and together they bicker, drink, and drive around Moscow for two weeks, this time in an SUV instead of an armored personnel carrier. The real action, though, is in Kostya’s head, where childhood memories blur with present-day nightmares. What happened to the quiet boy who stayed after school for hours, filling notebook after notebook with drawings of naked women? Gelasimov’s spare prose and pointed dialogue make this tale of drinking, disfigurement, and self-discovery a memorable one; Kostya’s unique voice may particularly resonate with readers dealing with postcombat adjustment issues in their own lives. An English translation of Gelasimov’s acclaimed novel The Gods of the Steppes is also forthcoming, but, unfortunately, we will have to wait a little longer for his other works, including the intriguingly titled story collection Fox Mulder Looks like a Pig. — Brendan Driscoll
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 116 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611090695
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611090697
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,680,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Bill Sanders VINE VOICE on November 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've always believed that the most difficult task for an author is to write a simple story that encompasses some of the most profound and complex issues in life. This particular story centers on the current and remembered life of Kostya (Constantine is the Western version of the name). The story is told as Kostya and two former squad members from a Russian unit that fought in the Chechnya war together search for a fellow member of the same squad who had helped save them from a burning armored personnel carrier (APC). Kostya has been terribly burned in the APC attack and his face is so scarred that a neighbor lady invites him over to terrify her young son into obeying, which Kostya obligingly does. Reflecting on his life while he and his two war buddies search for their friend, we learn of real friendship, coping with multiple hard facts in life and a way to deal with anything that life throws at you. It is not (thankfully) one of those self-help books, but it is literature in its finest sense--honest, piercing and without apology or a Hollywood ending. It is much better than that, and it is a book worth reading. I came away from it feeling pretty good about humans despite their many failings.

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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on December 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Regardless of what your taste in literature is, consider throwing down a slug of Gelasimov. Thirst, his most recent book to be translated from Russian into English, may not intoxicate you, but it will alter your consciousness a bit. If you read solely to cater to your dopamine receptors (i.e. for pleasure alone), it would probably be best to look elsewhere than to Thirst. Thirst is not without pleasurable moments, but few would call it a feel good novel.

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.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tommy Dooley TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
Andrei Gelasimov has been feted in Russia and is both commercially and critically acclaimed. This novella is an attempt by Amazon Crossing to bring his work to the attention of the wider world. It tells the story of Konstantin, who desperate to get away from his father's lack of paternal instinct and an education he could not be bothered with, decided not to be a draft dodger in the war against Chechnya.

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.
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