Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Loaded Questions with "One More Year" author Sana Krasikov

  • One More Year is a collection of stories that deals with culture clashes, individual identity and follows the lives of individuals caught between their native land (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia) and the pull to succeed in America.

The night that I began reading One More Year by Sana Krasikov I didn't go to sleep until well after it was light outside. I read each one of the stories, paused afterward to think and was shocked when I realized that it was 4:00 am. Since then I have been raving about this collection of short stories, each of which features characters from Russia, Georgia and Ukraine many of which are in the process of escaping their old lives and in some case cultures to live in America.

The stories featured in One More Year include mothers separated from their children in order to provide a better life, wives fleeing husbands.

Part of what makes these stories so interesting is the clear differentiation between aspects of American culture as compared to that of Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia. This is no mere "book about immigrants". While the people who have migrated in the stories of One More Year have come from a region of the world that has been historically linked (if only by lines on the map), each story features characters who have come from different cultures and for very different reasons. Perhaps Sana expresses this best, in another interview she wrote "when some of your characters are from other countries, themes of migration come through; though I think my stories are less about migration itself, and more about life in a post-migration world." And she absolutely gets it right.

As you all know, I recommend a lot of books and like every one of them. But One More Year is a very big recommendation, you don't want to miss this debut.

Kelly Hewitt: The reviews for One More Year have been stellar and I have to admit I myself have raved about the book since the moment I first picked it up. A critic at the Miami Herald wrote that you are "as good as Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri were at this stage in their careers." I wonder – how do you react to the comparisons that you have received? Do you read/follow what many of the critics have written about One More Year?

Sana Krasikov: First, thank you for covering One More Year. I’m grateful for all the work you took to touch on the different levels of the book. Sure, I’ve read reviews. It’s a difficult job to write a review. I think that going through Iowa taught me that everyone reads differently. The way people will interpret a work will depend on what stage of life they are in, what memories and experiences the story brings up for them. Frank Conroy always spoke about this varying “zone” in which a reader’s expectations engage with the words on the page. It sounded rather abstract, but I’ve since come to realize that literature does get its life from a reader’s interaction with it. One of my friends, who went through a divorce, loved “Better Half.” A friend of the family responded more emotionally to the “The Repatriates” because of the way the story depicted of the corporate world, and how it excluded people like him, who lacked a certain cultural literacy. As far as comparisons with other authors go, I suppose any new author who has not established him or herself yet will be compared with others. That’s been happening forever, even Pushkin’s early work was compared with Byron’s.

Kelly: Many of your short stories deal with individuals who have just recently immigrated from Ukraine, Georgia and Russia, are in the process of leaving or are visiting the United States. The whole time I was reading I could not help but wonder, when did you yourself leave Georgia for the US? Did you arrive alone or with family?

Sana: I left in 1987 with my family. We were part of a more structured immigration than some of the characters in the book, who came after the Soviet Union no longer existed.

Kelly: One of the stories that struck me as the most profound was the story "Better Half" in which Anya, newly immigrated, meets and gets into a rather tumultuous but oddly genuine and curiously romantic marriage with Ryan, a guy who some of the readers of your stories have labeled as the "wrong guy". You have written that you saw the relationship between these too oddly matched individuals as a relationship of necessity, loneliness and necessity. The necessity of this situation is the attainment of a green card. I am curious – the whole concept of green card's, false marriages and desperation to stay in the US has been played out in countless movies, television and book. Do you believe that these sort of arranged green card marriages with the pressure to prove their genuineness are as prevalent as one might believe?

Sana: Anya’s situation is complex - her marriage is not a “green-card marriage” in the premeditated sense. At some point she has to choose between staying put or visiting a sick parent at home and not being able to re-enter the country. So her boyfriend does her a favor and proposes. Would she marry him under different circumstances? Probably not. On the other hand, there’s a genuine physical attraction in their relationship. In life, all kinds of factors play into why two people end up together. I know plenty of men and women who have married “for green-cards”, and a lot of those marriages have worked out great. I also know people who now live together because someone’s rent-controlled lease ran out. We make the most personal choices based on all kinds of contingencies.

Kelly: While reading One More Year I thought to myself "now that was the most intense story" only to change my mind after reading the next story. Is there a particular story among this collection that you find to be most personal?

I’ll take it as a good sign that people have a hard time deciding which story is their favorite. “The Alternate” is close to my heart. There’s a certain humor in it about the aspirational side of being an immigrant, and how hollow that aspiration can be.

The idea for that story came years ago when my cousin and I were in Boston for my sister’s med school graduation. My cousin’s mother had died when her daughter was too young to remember her. The man who hosted us in Boston was her mother’s high school friend. She’d been an attractive woman, and my cousin looked just like her – and it became obvious that this man had once had feelings for her mother. He kept trying to engage my cousin in conversation about her, to which she dryly replied, “sorry, I don’t remember her.” You could he was so disappointed.

Kelly: In the short story "There Will Be No Fourth Rome" you present two very contrasting characters that represent each side of the conflict, a conflict which your story makes very clear didn't begin recently but has existed for quite some time. There is Larisa, a member of the Russian intelligentsia who represents classic Russia in her meager existence which is garnered from a disability pension. On the other hand there's the narrator's childhood friend Nona, eager and ready to move up in life, bolstering her position by being the girlfriend of a foreign businessman. You mentioned in another interview, quite well, that these two women were "almost like mirror images of one another – a rising class displacing a declining one". I have read that while you grew up in Georgia you have spent time in Moscow, did you ever feel the conflict of classes that your characters are living? Was there ever hesitancy on your behalf as a native Georgian to spend time in Moscow? Or is that a naive question to ask?

" there’s the Moscow where young women flash their Zarkowski crystal-encrusted cell-phones and the Moscow where older women stand next to metro entrances peddling hand-knit socks. " - Sana Krasikov

Sana: For me, an idea for a story usually comes from a line of dialogue, which then becomes a key on which the whole story turns while I write it. By the time I’m done, the sentence seems like a throwaway line, when it’s really the cornerstone. In Companion, it was the line when Earl tells Ilona “but a woman like you should never have to worry about money.” That line conveyed the irony of Ilona’s whole situation. The phrase that ended up giving me the idea for No Fourth Rome came from the lips of a friend of mine in Moscow after I told her I was staying with a woman who didn’t own a cell phone. Her response was “that poor creature,” which I found really funny. Anyone who’s been to this city can tell you there are two Moscow’s – there’s the Moscow where young women flash their Zarkowski crystal-encrusted cell-phones and the Moscow where older women stand next to metro entrances peddling hand-knit socks. I have never been to a place where class division is more generational. I’m sure part of it has to do with the Russian ethos, which existed even in Soviet times, when grandparents would spending the last of your pensions to buy a grand-daughter that new German doll. Children first. But it also has to do with how, in a matter of years, all entitlements for older people were wiped out – what they’d worked for their whole lives now meant nothing. It was almost impossible not to capture that after being in Moscow for a while.

But I can’t say I ever felt uncomfortable as someone from Georgia – I wasn’t culturally readable that way, since my accent is American, if anything.

Kelly: I wonder, was there increased attention paid to One More Year after the recent Russian-Georgian conflict?

Sana: Not particularly. I was surprised that the review in the New York Times, which came out a month after the conflict, didn’t even mention it. At least people know where Georgia is on the map now, which confirms that war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. There’s definitely a subtle undercurrent of Russian-Georgian tension in some of the stories, which rises to the surface at certain moments, like in No Fourth Rome, when Nona rags on her sister Ecca for changing her name to Katya, the more Russified version of Ekaterina, after Ecca marries a Russian guy.

Kelly: Part of what makes these stories so interesting is the clear differentiation between aspects of American culture as compared to Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia. As I have written above, this is no mere "book about immigrants" and while the people who have migrated in the stories of One More Year have come from a region of the world that has been historically linked (if only by lines on the map), each story features characters who have come from different cultures and for very different reasons.

Sana: Right. Central Asia, for example, is very different from the Ukraine, and yet those two places existed under one super-structure. I think one of the assumptions we have about why people come to this country is to seek “a better life.” But what does that mean exactly? In “Asal,” Gulia’s husband is a wealthy man, who has grown a successful rug business in capitalist Uzbekistan. She decides she’d rather be a maid for a while in New York, than the wife of an entrepreneur, to teach him a lesson. For her, leaving is a matter of dignity, not opportunities.

Kelly: This is perhaps a hopeful question on my part. Sometimes when musicians make CDs they have tracks that were, for one reason or another, not included in the final product. I enjoyed these stories so much that I find myself hoping that there were maybe more stories in this series that were not included in the final product. Is there any hope of more One More Year stories? Perhaps Another One More Year for the title?

Sana: I’m so glad you asked this! One of my favorite stories didn’t make it into the collection because it felt too much like a bonus track. I haven’t had time to send it out yet to magazines, but I’d like to. It’s called “The Tenth Coldest Day” and it is different from the other stories, but not as different as people think if they take a closer look. I really want to find a good home for it.

Kelly: And finally, the one question that authors are often loathe to have to answer. I know that you mentioned that you were beginning to think about your debut novel, a work that would feature a historical element. Can you share any more information about your next book? A work that, after the success of One More Year, is sure to be highly anticipated.

Sana: So far, I’ve only worked on it in the most abstract sense. Part of that is that I have to understand who the characters are before I commit them to paper. I’ll say this, the hero will be a man who is older, who grew up in an orphanage, and who designs ships for Arctic climates. Or at least I hope that’s what he does, because otherwise I know much more than I need to about bow propellers and double-acting tankers.


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