Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lost in Book Maze

I have always bought Russian-language books from Book Maze, on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, not far from where I grew up. But over the last few years, their inventory had diminished to the point that the only items left on display were toys, Soviet-nostalgia chachkas and Russian DVDs. Books had to be ordered from the warehouse. The movies weren't too long for this world either -- their pirated versions were now 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. When I was their age, during 'Giuliani Time,' 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.