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Review: Snow in May: Stories by Kseniya Melnik

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My Interest

The cover is honestly what attracted my interest! Isn’t it beautiful? I am reading seasonally this year so I was torn–was this a winter title (snow) or a Spring title (May). I went with snow being winter. As you know, if you read here regularly, I’ve actually been enjoying my dynamic duo of reading nemeses–short stories and essays. Chalk it up to COVID quarantine, old age, or whatever, but I’ve been plowing through them. That said, when something is described as “Achingly beautiful” (Kirkus) I’m inclined to give it some side-eye and approach it warily. Good thing I didn’t see that phrase before I started reading!

The Stories

“…I continued to think about how luck is distributed among the living–a subject I’ve been ruminating on often lately. I began to understand why Tolyan might be so eager to get in touch with me. For him, the years when our paths ran parallel to each other were the peak of his life. I could only imagine to what legendary proportions our youthful friendship had grown by now in his imagination. For me, however, these years were a takeoff strip, not the flight” (p. 54).

Also if you read here regularly,  you know back in the Regan years I studied the Soviet Union extensively for my bachelor’s degree. These stories are set at various times in the Gulag city of Magadan. The cast of characters, their stories, and the back-drop of their town make this collection a fascinating read.

“Now, with her heavy makeup and low bun of hennaed hair, she felt like a matron about to receive some Soviet medal she didn’t deserve” (p. 201).

From Zoya in 1958 rushing into marriage with a soldier to flying with the Italian soccer team in 1975 to the 1990s lives of a Soviet-Russian expatriate aviation investor and a fellow Russian, a mail-order bride, both across the Straight in Alaska–the land of the free, this collection discusses the ordinary lives of the people of Magadan. A school rumba competition, a piano recital, the tenor who became a nonperson and was rehabilitated share pages with the entrepreneurial grandma who joins a line in a Moscow store for a chance to buy a child’s Finnish snowsuit as well as with love-starved engineering students Tolik and Tolyan. The luck of ordinary people in this not-so-ordinary town reveals so much about Russian life outside of Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg again now). The ordinariness of the lives is what drew me in and kept me reading. It was like being there with them.

There was ONE disappointing moment (a sadly predictable one) but otherwise the whole collection was wonderful.

Snow in May: Stories by Kseniya Melnik

My verdict

3.5

I took it down from 4.0 due to that one moment.

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