Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lost in Book Maze

I have always bought Russian books at Book Maze, on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, just around the corner from where I used to live. Over the last few years though, their inventory had diminished to the point where the only items left on display were toys, Soviet-nostalgia chachkas and Russian DVDs. Books had to be ordered special from the warehouse. The movies weren't too long for this world either since their pirated versions were soon available online for free.

A couple of days ago I called Dima, the owner, to order Svetlana Alexievich's 'Время Cеконд Xэнд' (Second Hand Time), a birthday present for my mother. (The original Russian language edition is not available on Amazon). "You didn't hear?" Dima said. "We've just shut down. What's that title again?" He told me he had the book in the warehouse and, if I still lived nearby, could actually drop it off at my place. Later that afternoon he called back to tell me that he was on his way. He described his car. When I came outside, it was already idling on my street corner with the hazards on. Across the street, a group of teenage boys were laughing and playing and passing around the biggest joint I've ever seen in my life. During 'Giuliani Time,' when I was their age, I wouldn't dream of smoking weed so openly. As I counted off soggy singles and fives to a man who now sold books by Nobel laureates out of the trunk of his car, the boys kept looking at us with suspicion.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lenin Lives! Why It's Wrong to Destroy Soviet Sculptures

(A version of this article appeared online in Russia! Magazine)

In 1991, after seventy years of Soviet repression, Ukraine declared its independence. Those living in Kharkiv, its second largest city, may remember it as the most uncertain period in the country's history. But Kharkiv's statue of V. I. Lenin – the largest in Ukraine – stood even as the nation around it was crumbling.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lena Dunham is No Philip Roth or Richard Pryor

Gilbert Flores/BroadImage
"He doesn't tip. And he never brings his wallet anywhere," Lena Dunham quips about her partner, musician Jack Antonoff, in a New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs piece titled Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz. "This is because he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don't acknowledge their own need for independence as women." 

The article drew heat from social media, opinion writers, and the Anti-Defamation League. But David Remnick, New Yorker editor, stood by Dunham, insisting that "Richard Pryor and Chris Rock do the same about black stereotypes," comparing HBO's Girls star to Lenny Bruce and Larry David.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crimea Is Not The End: Dmitry Bykov's Dispatch From Kharkov

Dmitry Bykov, a Russian poet, fiction writer and journalist, wrote some twenty books of prose, verse and literary criticism. Together with actor Mikhail Yefremov, he also created a performance series called "Citizen Poet"— a daring spectacle of opposition poetics about the current state of Russia. TV network "Дождь" (Rain), which broadcast Citizen Poet, had been repeatedly censored and blocked by cable providers under pressure from the Putin government.

Just days after Russia invaded Crimea, Bykov traveled to Kharkov, a mostly Russian-speaking Eastern Ukrainian city where I was born. He wrote about his visit in Sobesednik, Russia's current events weekly. Below is my translation of the piece. The original Russian version is available here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Goodbye to You All: Writers on Using and Leaving New York

Image credit:
"I’d entered the city the way one enters any grand love affair: with no exit plan," Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild, wrote about leaving New York. Her essay is one of twenty eight personal accounts in a collection titled Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. A couple of them talked up their exodus in a recent  Atlantic piece--a warm reminiscence on slim pants, chic coats, West Village, Park Slope, Christmas, and the smell of pizza.

"I kept insisting that I wouldn’t leave until I had made it," said Mira Ptacin, one of the contributors. "The thing is, once I made it to one rung on the ladder of success, there was always another rung above to reach for. And another, and another."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

For $2.50, A Ride And An Art Show

"Missed Connections" by Sophie Blackall©

On your next New York City subway commute pocket the iPhone and look around. You’ll be surprised by the atmosphere which, in some cases, is literally painted on the walls.

Currently, more than 200 platforms feature permanent displays connecting "to neighborhoods with art that echoes the architectural history and design context of the individual stations." For 25 years, MTA’s Arts for Transit has been choosing the most visionary local artists to adorn the stations using materials already on site—mosaic, ceramic, tile, bronze, steel and faceted glass. The result is a cornucopia of artwork on platforms, walls, gates and transfers all over the city.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Steven Volynets©
I was not yet American when I became obsessed with the New York City skyline. I first glimpsed it from the back of a flatbed cargo van which was taking me, my baby brother, my parents, my grandparents, another family and everything we owned into Manhattan from the JFK airport. When we reached the midpoint of the 56th Street Bridge, those of us still awake shared a vision. No one spoke. I held my breath. My father cried. Years later, in Brooklyn, I took this photo with a disposable camera from the rooftop of the Americana—the tallest building in my neighborhood. It was 1997. I was 18 and a U.S. Citizen.