33 Moments of Happiness: St. Petersburg Stories

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9780375400292: 33 Moments of Happiness: St. Petersburg Stories

An enchanting, fabulously bizarre and intriguing book of short stories by a prizewinning new German writer.

Each episode in this dazzling debut collection captures the spark in some tiny detail of everyday life in contemporary St. Petersburg and fans it into a story that flares with comedy, surreal passion, heartbreaking indifference and mad Russian excess.

There's a Mafia shoot-out in a disco, as told by a gun-toting Walter Mitty simultaneously thrilled and horrified by the carnage he is creating. There's a returning exiled writer so desperate to keep his reputation alive, now that he is no longer a professional dissident, that he will do anything to hold the interest of his retinue of reporters and cameras. There are three devils who appear for an evening at the steam bath, their revelries ending in cannibalism—or is the watching manager just mad? St. Nicholas comes back as a rich American. There is a gallery opening that gives new meaning to the term "installation." And on and on...

These are sad, whimsical, macabre, bleakly funny stories, all told in a playful and voluptuous prose that is itself an homage to the great Russian masters whom Schulze is honoring—from Gogol to Pasternak, from Chekhov to Nabokov.

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Review:

Ever since the 1830s, when Pushkin immortalized St. Petersburg in "The Bronze Horseman," the city has been the capital of the Russian imagination. It also seems to have exerted a powerful influence on the young German writer Ingo Schulze, who celebrates this swampy metropolis in his English-language debut, 33 Moments of Happiness. Not that the author is invariably enchanted by his subject. His 33 slices of Slavic life include some definite downers, not least a bloody (yet oddly comical) shootout in a disco. For one of Schulze's narrators, in fact, St. Petersburg encapsulates all the defects of an entire nation: "Russians in general seem to have been so conditioned by some lifelong experiment that apathy marches in step with an astounding ingenuity for humiliating others. Everything is contrived to cause people the greatest possible unpleasantness, whether it's a lack of benches, mirrors hung too low, repairs that go on for years or the shopping, which requires standing in line three times for a pat of butter." Still, many of the characters manage to grasp some genuine bliss, even if it's simply the scent of an imported perfume or a poppy-seed pastry. These minor ecstasies--and the sizzling, sardonic pleasures of the prose--ensure that the reader's happiness will be anything but momentary. --James Marcus

From the Back Cover:

"A tour de force of short-story writing, a remarkable gathering of 'sketches' of modern-day St. Petersburg . . . When the curtain rises on each brief piece, the reader is instantly transported . . . A rare and
memorable work."
--Publishers Weekly
"These stories are simply masterpieces . . . Ingo Schulze plays creatively and deftly with that exotic place called Russia and produces a richly varied series of shrewdly constructed prose pieces--satiric and fantastic tales, some verging on the surreal, others on tragedy or, better,
tragicomedy . . . Told with great ease and humor."
--Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung
"During 1993, Ingo Schulze lived as a journalist in St. Petersburg. The special air he breathed must have been rich with the local ferment of fantasy, for he has turned the whole mix into literature fascinated by life in all its mad manifestations."
--Süddeutsche Zeitung

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