One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Yes, I know, I was absent again for a while. I haven’t done too much reading since I came back from DC, but I’ve been doing more traveling instead. After the US, I was home for two and a half weeks, then I went to Istanbul for a week to meet up with two Dutch women (and several other people) I’d met online in the past year. As an unexpected bonus, I also got to meet up with another friend who used to live in Armenia and who’s now living in Istanbul. Then I was home for five days before I was off again to a seminar on violence against women in Tbilisi, Georgia. I came back on Tuesday. Now I’ll be home in Yerevan until the end of July.

The collection of short stories One More Year had been on my radar since before it was published last year. I had read a few of Sana Krasikov’s short stories online and I loved them. When I was in Washington, I came across One More Year in a bookstore and I couldn’t leave it there. I ended up reading most of the book on the way back from DC to Yerevan during my ten-hour layover in Moscow but because I had spent the previous night on the plane, I was slightly sleep deprived and jetlagged and a big part of the book just passed by without me noticing it. So I decided to re-read the book once I was home and in a slightly better shape. I’m glad I did, because there is so much to find in Krasikov’s stories. There was not one story among the eight that I didn’t like at all, though I do have some favorites. One  More Year is among my favorite books of this year so far and it is one of my favorite collections of short stories. Sana Krasikov is definitely an author I am going to watch.

All the main characters in the eight stories are women who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the US East Coast. As Sana Krasikov says in the interview in the reader’s guide at the back “they were living in temporary arrangements that had somehow become permanent. Many of them weren’t “immigrants” in the traditional sense that they’d arrived in a new country to start a new life. More often they had a foot in one world and a foot in the other.” Beyond this common thread, their lives had played out very differently, though. None of the characters in One More Year is perfect, they are all flawed, but they are also sympathetic, some more so than others, just people trying to deal with the cards that life has dealt them.

Maia, the main character in the story Maia in Yonkers (link goes to the story), is a Georgian woman working illegally as a live-in caretaker for an elderly lady. Her teenage son Gogi is coming to visit her from Tbilisi, but this visit doesn’t go as Maia hoped. Initially, this one wasn’t among my favorites, but it somehow stuck with me. Another favorite is Asal in which Gulia moves from Tashkent to New York to escape her marriage after her husband Rashid takes on a second wife, one who is much more traditional and religious than Gulia is. Asal is one of the stories I had read in a literary journal before I bought the book (link goes to the story). Better Half was another of my favorites. While working in a seaside restaurant during a summer work-stay in the US, Russian student Anya marries Ryan in order to get a greencard and be able to stay in the US. When this turns out to be an abusive marriage, Anya has to decide what she wants. In Debt, Lev and his wife Dina host their niece Sonya and her husband who suddenly show up for the weekend. Once it becomes clear why the couple suddenly decided to pay a visit to their relatives, Lev and Dina have to decide how far they are willing to go to help a relative. There’s an excerpt of this story here. In The Repatriates (link goes to the story) Lera and Grisha move back to Russia after having lived in the US for more than ten years. Grisha wants to move back because he’s unsatisfied with life in the US and thinks there’s more money to be made in Russia. The re-migration puts a strain on their marriage, though. In the final story There will be no Fourth Rome, Regina visits a family friend in Moscow to escape from her problems in the US. You can read this story online here.

Other stories from the book that are available online are Companion and The Alternate (excerpt only).

I read There will be no Fourth Rome at the bus station in Tbilisi, when I had an hour to kill before my minibus back to Yerevan would leave. In this story there is a scene when Regina and her two friends Ecca and Nona are taking a taxi.

Ecca sat down in the front seat while Nona and I took the back. We were driving along the city’s Garden Ring, and I still couldn’t find my seatbelt. There wasn’t even a trace of one; it seemed to have been ripped out at the root. “Don’t bother,” said Nona, watching me struggle. I looked at the driver. He wasn’t wearing his, either.
Ecca pulled her seatbelt to her left hip and held it down with her hand.
“Just leave it, Ecca,” said Nona.
“No. What if a police car drives by?”
“Ecca, this is ridiculous. If you’re going to hold the belt like that, why don’t you just buckle it up like a normal person?”
“Because I don’t want to.” She touched her chin to her chest and looked down at the seatbelt self-consciously. “It isn’t comfortably that way.”
“It’s more comfortable to keep your arm twisted?”
“Listen to you, bossy lady,” she said, facing us.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Nona said, turning to me. “Everything we do here is backward. We’ll break the law, even when it’s a million times easier just to follow it.”
Ecca looked down at her seatbelt again. “Maybe it wrinkles my shirt,” she said, not giving up.

This in itself made me smile in recognition already, because I totally recognize this from Armenia and I suspect anybody who has ever traveled in the former Soviet countries will be familiar with the seatbelt-issue. No one used to wear seatbelts in Armenia until last year the traffic police started to fine people for not wearing their seatbelts. I guess the notoriously corrupt traffic police had realized there was money to be made there (on a sidenote: notice how I’m cynically talking about corruption and not about the need to follow the law? Welcome to the region!). Now many people just pretend to be wearing their seatbelts by putting them on their lap so the strap across their chest is visible from outside without really buckling up.

When my minibus was getting ready to leave the bus station, I ended up sitting in the front seat next to the driver. He told me to buckle up: just put the seatbelt across my lap. Well, there wasn’t much else I could do with it anyway, because the part where you have to fasten the seatbelt was missing.

Here is what other bloggers had to say about One More Year:
The Boston Bibliophile
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Three Guys One Book
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
Devourer of Books
The Magic Lasso
S. Krishna’s Books

If you reviewed One More Year on your blog, please leave a comment with the link to your review and I will include it in this list.

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