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Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya

Aetherial Worlds

Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya
Mar 20, 2018 | 256 Pages
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    Mar 20, 2018 | 256 Pages

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    Mar 20, 2018 | 256 Pages

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“Marvelously vivid, perfectly tuned. . . Stories about people who are haunted by visions, moments when the dull plastic coating of reality peels back to reveal something vastly more precious underneath.  Tolstaya is well known in Russia as a brilliant and caustic political critic, but her memories of her Soviet childhood have a tender, personal quality. She is haunted by the past, blessed—and cursed—with the mystic’s gift of seeing the shades of the departed. One could reassemble an entire midcentury apartment block out of Aetherial Worlds. There’s a valedictory sadness to these memories, but Tolstaya will swerve from a flight of melancholy lyricism straight into a thicket of profanity, shaking off her own eloquence like a bad mood. This register gives voice to her bracing impatience with sentimentality and disingenuousness. Tolstaya’s vision reveals the world as a complex system of real and unreal realms, populated by beings both visible and invisible, floodlit by flashes of transcendence.” —Lev Grossman, The New York Times Book Review

“Playful and poetic…A sense of permanent impermanence, both forlorn and liberating, inflects Tolstaya’s reveries; and never is she more luxuriantly homesick than when she recalls her childhood…The resplendent story ‘The Invisible Maiden’ describes her charmed summers in the family dacha—it shows this foxy, original writer at her most sublime, when memory fuses with wonder, and wonder with worship.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“The best of Tolstaya’s stories trace [the] intersection of imagination and memory, where the two become something greater by not being merely one or the other. Nowhere is this more on display than in ‘The Invisible Maiden,’ her beautiful, meticulous vision of her family’s old summer home, where emotion has seeped into every surface. Tolstaya quotes Kipling: ‘When your demon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, await, and obey.’ The strength of her stories comes from fidelity to that call. Real, imaginary—why worry the difference? Sometimes the stories race from the true into the absurd: the banal beaten back by inner eyes, a cursed amulet, a murder plot . . . Sometimes, when I try to recall my childhood, it feels as though someone had erased the tape at crucial moments; my powers of second sight are still a work in progress, but these stories make you worry about—or thrill to—what would happen if you started to see too much.”
—David Wallace, The New Yorker  

“As Tatyana Tolstaya states in the title story, her first collection to be translated into English in over twenty years, ‘Spring in the states, on the East Coast, is basically crazy.’ The collection—which is out the same week as the spring equinox—anchors a collection of dark, funny folkloric tales. Each is masterful in its ability to keep apace with the world’s banalities and frustrations while moving seamlessly into the surreal. Her characters are haunted by ghosts, but also by the alienation they feel among Americans. Tolstaya is funniest when observing life in American universities and darkest when writing—as she does in the stories ‘Aspic,’ ‘Smoke,’ and ‘Shadows’—about a melancholy deadening the hearts of her characters. Tolstaya’s conscious aversion to sentimentality makes you feel as if you alone are catching a glimpse into the secretly vulnerable and deeply captivating souls of her characters.”
—Lauren Kane, The Paris Review

“Grimly hilarious…Everything in this generous writer’s hands is vivid and alive…Tolstaya is divinely quotable—slangy, indignant, lyrical, crude…It’s all sublime…the swerve and cackle, the breeziness and dark depths…the torrents of language and the offhand perfect touch…She has been compared to Chekhov. Absurd…Tolstaya barrels by him and knocks him in the ditch.”
—Joy Williams, Bookforum

“Praised by…Joseph Brodsky as ‘the most original, tactile, luminous voice in Russian prose,’ Tolstaya, two decades on, is all that and more in this edgy, brash, slyly surreal, and mordantly funny short story collection…Tolstaya contrasts family troubles, poverty, lies, and tyranny with the ‘aetherial worlds’ of love, dreams, memories, and myths. Tolstaya’s daring, masterful stories, crisply translated, glint and whirl with extraordinary dimension and force.”

“Tolstaya’s writing is so good that it cuts through the surface directly to the universal workings of the human heart.”

“Fans of Russian literature and culture will relish this first work [of] celebrated woman of letters Tolstaya’s to be translated in 20 years . . . In the collection’s first story Tolstaya reflects on how she began writing in the first place: at 32, after undergoing eye surgery, she was blind for three months and could suddenly remember episodes from her life vividly, and describe them effortlessly. This fluid remembrance is in full effect in these stories . . . Tolstaya writes lyrically, in thoughtful, sometimes magical prose.” —Kate Gray, Library Journal

“These uniformly masterful stories reject any attempt at easy categorization, resulting in a profound, surprising, and rich experience. Some stories…echo the lyricism of the Russian masters…Others are more essayistic…Some, such as ‘The Window,’ are surreal allegories in the manner of Gogol. While the works blend fantasy and fact, often within the same story, what unites them all is Tolstaya’s singular and assured voice, capable of beautiful specificity…and of surveying history from above and proclaiming, matter-of-factly, that ‘autocracy is basically self-explanatory.’”
 —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A poet of silences and small gestures, Tolstaya often writes of love, if sometimes love that has gone off the rails…Elegant, lyrical tales woven with melancholy and world-weariness—but also with a curious optimism. A gem.”
Kirkus (starred review)
“​Call off the search for Tatyana Tolstaya’s origins among the Russian greats: There’s no one like her anywhere, then or now. She is a writer of breathtaking originality, boldness and importance.”
—Thomas McGuane, author of Cloudbursts

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