- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (May 13, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1627790071
- ISBN-13: 978-1627790079
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,336,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Snow in May: Stories Hardcover – May 13, 2014
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*Starred Review* In her first book, Melnik’s nine tender, linked stories constitute a stark mural painted against the backdrop of political change in late-twentieth-century Russia and the Soviet Union, images only a Russian could craft. Pre-perestroika, post-perestroika, it all makes little difference to the residents of cold, snowbound Magadan on the northeast Russian coast. Melnik knows these people well, and portrays them and their determination, stoicism in the face of regime changes, and dry sense of dark humor with an economy of language that mirrors their economy of life. There is the young mid-century woman who yearns only to escape the crowded bed she shares with her two sisters and who grasps at the only available route, marriage. She learns too late that life as a military officer’s wife can be its own punishment. The glasnost generation differs little, caught up as it is in the fantasies that television delivers. It’s difficult to pick a favorite among Melnik’s striking tales, but Love, Italian Style, the story of busy working mother Tanya on a trip from Magadan to Moscow to stock up on provisions, creates a surge of poignancy that sets the tone for all the others in this affecting and timely collection. --Donna Chavez
“Ruminative...Lovely...Accomplished...'Snow in May' takes us deep into the complex fabric of Magadan, an isolated fishing and mining town in the northern reaches of Russia that once served as a transit center for prisoners dispatched to Stalin's labor camps. With this rich setting as backdrop, Melnik's characters--young and old, male and female--live quiet lives burdened by the constant weight of conflict.” ―New York Times Book Review
“Fabulous…In beautifully narrated story after story, we get an art boutique version of something we might call "Real Housewives of Siberia" before Glasnost and after. Along with keenly composed stories, Melnik gives us beautiful images… [like] when a woman named Tonya recalls how as a young girl she sat on the bank of the Volga River and lifted up her eyes in time to see the last sunray strike a little fire on the golden cupola of a country church on the opposite bank. Although her future seemed vague, it's every mysterious facet glimmered with light and possibility. As does the literary career of wonderful new story writer, Kseniya Melnik.” ―Alan Cheuse, NPR "All Things Considered"
“Touching...These stories might be inspired by a place most of us have never heard of, but they come from straight the heart.” ―Seattle Times
“Melnik beautifully captures this stark, forbidding world.” ―New York Public Library, Book Notes
“A powerful achievement... [Melnik] writes evocatively of the textures, smells and bone-chilling temperatures of this exotic land in prose that is burnished and precise.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Exceptional...magical...By recollecting the past, [Melnik] has discovered a deep mine of beauty and sadness.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“It may be a collection of nine stories, but Kseniya Melnik's debut, Snow in May, has the thematic breadth and cohesion of a novel…. It's an impressive thing, the way Melnik is able to evoke so much from a landscape of frozen tundra.” ―Grantland
“These stories sparkle with the brilliance and charm of Chekhov--while possessing a modern grace and rare intimacy that are unique to the literary talent of Kseniya Melnik.” ―Simon Van Booy, award-winning author of Love Begins in Winter and The Illusion of Separateness
“Kseniya Melnik's beautiful Snow in May is an education in how history is routed, refracted, and reconciled inside the human heart. In sonorous, evocative prose, the triumphs and tragedies of Magadan are vividly brought to life. In 1890, Chekhov traveled to the Russian Far East--had he made the journey a century later, and gone a little farther north, these stories may well have been the result.” ―Anthony Marra, author of the bestselling and award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“In her first book, Melnik's nine tender, linked stories comprise a stark mural painted against the backdrop of political change in late-twentieth-century Russia and the Soviet Union, images only a Russian could craft…It's difficult to pick a favorite among Melnik's striking tales.” ―Booklist, starred review
“Achingly beautiful, this collection signals a writer to watch.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Melnik tackles tragic subject matter while dramatizing daily struggles, giving equal weight to both. With dry humor and detailed description, Melnik creates a historically enlightening time capsule of an unfamiliar world.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Kseniya Melnik's assured debut Snow in May is a book about extremes. In the Russian Far East, her characters cope with extreme weather, extreme punishment and deprivation, and extreme change as the USSR falls apart. These stories are a wonderful introduction to late-twentieth-century Russia and to Kseniya Melnik, a talent for the twenty-first century.” ―Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them
“Like some improbable magician of the mundane, Kseniya Melnik waves her literary wand over drab Soviet cities and their unsmiling denizens and the world cracks into color. A moldering Khrushchyovka, an endless line for an ill-fitting dress, a dance studio in disrepair all form a key to mysterious interior landscapes teeming with hope, heartbreak, and the ever-tantalizing prospect of salvation. Snow in May is like that fabled snow globe of your dreams-- to open it is to be transfixed.” ―Alina Simone, author of You Must Go and Win and Note to Self
“Kseniya Melnik's stories are full and expansive in the way of Alice Munro's; the reader is pulled under, willingly, into seedy and sensual worlds, like 70s Moscow and a Russian military base. Melnik's characters long for happiness and stability and face morally complex lives, the threat of menace and failure just around the corner. To read her striking, original work is to be enchanted and utterly transported.” ―Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise
“Snow in May does more than herald a new writer of talent; it coheres, it radiates heat, and it's the best story collection you'll read this year. If Kseniya Melnik writes prose the way it should be written, that is ecstatically (to borrow Updike's phrase), maybe it's because she shares some of Nabokov's pedigree. But her talent is her own.” ―Darin Strauss, bestselling author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng
“Kseniya Melnik's breathtaking debut, Snow in May, is extraordinarily perceptive about how landscape shapes us--and continues to shape us long after we have left it. Though the stories revolve around haunted, wintry Magadan, they are anything but cold. Alight with wry humor and compassion and complex truths about the conditions of the soul, Melnik's tales burn with life.” ―Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth
“Spanning the second half of the 20th century, these haunting stories depict the struggles of disparate characters working to escape the dark history of a Siberian outpost. Here are lives filled with palpable yearning. A beautiful and assured debut.” ―Jennifer Vanderbes, author of Easter Island and The Secret of Raven Point
“Funny and sad, tender and tough, Melnik's stories reveal a writer who is wise and insightful beyond her years. Melnik's grasp of the realities of the twentieth century Russian Far East is startlingly accurate, but these stories are not anthropological studies - the characters transcend the setting, and they will break your heart.” ―Anya Ulinich, author of Petropolis
“Melnik is very talented, and this is an unerringly assured and dextrous first book. It's a big compliment when I say it merits comparison to Jennifer Egan's wonderful A Visit from the Goon Squad – the way perspectives prismatically glide from character to character and era to era, showing the simultaneously redemptive and remorseless work of Time in lucid and elaborate cross-section. Needless to say, though each story works on its own, they build beautifully together. The writing itself is achieved, finished, and gleams with unexpected imagery, gorgeous idiomatic reconfigurations of clichés and memorable aphorisms.” ―Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins
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The stories are linked by their connection to Magadan, a city in South-Eastern Russia, and seem to take place from after the Revolution until present time. In “Love Italian Style, or in Line for Bananas”, a young woman on her way to Moscow to shop meets an Italian soccer player on the plane. He looks “freshly washed and wrung free of life’s problems.” When he seems to invite her to his hotel, she’s torn between her need to stand in line to buy necessities for her family and her desire to experience something new. Funny and touching, this story limned a Russia I had privately envisioned; however the remaining stories took me into unknown territory.
In Strawberry Lipstick, a young woman, Olya, marries to escape her life and lands in a frozen outpost with a gambling husband. Her struggles to grow up far from home are marked by letters from her sister which contain proverbs about marriage. "Bride has an axe, groom is barefoot." Kseniya Melnik, the author, is Russian, so perhaps they are authentic. "Live with your husband for a century but never show your backside." Eventually Olya decides marriage is “a deep trench inside which festered a hundred previously concealed details about the person in whose company you had enlisted.”
Ms Melnik particularly shines when writing about young people. In “The Uncatchable Avengers”, the reader is inside the discombobulated thoughts of a kid playing the piano for a music competition. Time and again he goofs, to hilarious effect. Then there’s the little girl who wants to be a nurse and who pretends to be sick to get into the hospital, where she “diagnoses” her roommates. In “Rumba,” the author captures brilliantly the preparations of a young couple for a dance competition under the eyes of the controlling lustful teacher.
This collection will surprise you and make you laugh. It certainly got under my skin and I highly recommend it.