Ken Kalfus plucks individual lives from the stew of a century of Russian history and serves them up in tales that range from hair-raising to comic to fabulous.
The astonishing title story follows a doomed nuclear power plant worker as he hawks a most unusual package on the black market. In “Orbit,” the first cosmonaut navigates several unexpected items as he prepares to blaze the trail for the new communist society. In “Budyonnovsk,” a young man hopes desperately that the takeover of his town by Chechen rebels will save his marriage. Set in the 1920s, “Birobidzhan” is the bittersweet story of a Jewish couple journeying to the Soviet Far East. The novella, “Peredelkino,” which closes the book, traces the fortunes of a 1960s literary apparatchik whose romantic intrigues become political.
Together, these works of fiction capture the famously enigmatic Russian psyche. PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies is a book that offers a moving and kaleidoscopic portrait of the Russian people through a century of turbulent history.
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Praise and Prizes
“Ken Kalfus populates PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies with the gods and monsters of the decomposing Soviet Union, the luckless who find themselves on the wrong side of every imaginable fence. Mother Russia emerges as Kalfus’s most frustrating, sympathetic presence in this thrilling, inventive collection.”
“Ken Kalfus is that rare writer of fiction whose passages of description feel like action; it’s as if he were injecting his readers with a serum that renders them, in a rush, intimately familiar with the texture of the Russian experience.”
“It’s not the romantic iconography of the landscape that makes this book luminous. It’s the empathetic generosity of its portraits. . . . Ken Kalfus is a virtuoso of the dismal comedy of Soviet life.”
“Ken Kalfus is not a political writer, really. He loves to tell stories, loves imagining other people’s lives and experiences, and we can sense this in the delicate unraveling of each plot, of each sentence. There is, among us, a storyteller—how rare a gift this is!”
“Ken Kalfus prove[s] himself to be one of those rare writers who manages to tackle lofty issues of transnational culture and capitalism with a gentle humanist touch, making his stories at once intellectually provocative and emotionally satisfying.”
“Imaginative, densely detailed stories that open a window in a world perhaps more remote now than ever before.”