Portobello Books £7.99 (229pp)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
One More Year, By Sana Krasikov
Friday 27 August 2010
The young women who populate Sana Krasikov's prize-winning short stories are tired of waiting for life to begin. New arrivals from the former Soviet Republics, they have made it to America only to exchange dismal apartments in Nizhniy Novgorod and South Ossetia for small, over-heated rooms in Yonkers and White Plains.
Like Anya, in the story "Better Half", Krasikov's heroines are something between escorts and girlfriends. Cohabiting with elderly admirers and slack-bellied deadbeats they sell themselves short in order to get what they want: a visa and a chance to say farewell to the limited horizons of the East. Anya, who starts off with a promising summer job in Kennnebunkport - a name that sounded "spry and upbeat in its foreignness" - ends up sharing a bed with an abusive drunk and waiting tables in Kitchawank Hills.
Krasikov, who moved from Georgia to the States at the age of eight, is in a good position to understand the mindset of these pragmatic emigres. Living in both the present and the past, but still in constant mobile-phone contact with the motherland, they inhabit a debilitating dual reality. It's not that they're sentimental about what they've left behind - far from it - but find themselves gradually diminished by lives of compromise and calculation.
In one of the collection's most touching stories, "Maia in Yonkers", a Georgian widow in her forties, finds work as a nurse for an elderly Italian woman suffering from dementia. When Maia finally saves up enough money to bring her teenage son, Gogi, over from Tbilisi for a visit, he's casually dismissive of New York - only brightening up when the increasingly senile Mrs Trapolli, in a moment of rare lucidity, decides to buy him an expensive down jacket. The competing emotional needs of all three characters neatly dovetail as Krasikov unravels the ties that bind East and West, mother and son.
Love is what everyone wants, but in this world of illegal status and marrying strangers to get residency, everything reduces to the level of a transaction.
While most stories of modern immigration concentrate on the pangs of exile or the thrills of re-invention, Krasikov succeeds in capturing an experience that is neither one thing or another.
Her shrewd and highly readable narratives - masterclasses in elegant composition - evoke a series of relationships whose real currency has nobody fooled.
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