"Shylock on the Neva" - Gary Shteyngart
"The Ambassador's Son" - Tom Bissell
"The Condor" - Milenko Jergovik
"Babylon Revisited Redux" - John Beckman
"Hiroshima" - Vladimir Sorokin
"Wenceslas Square" - Arthur Phillips
This compilation of short stories from and about Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics was shockingly good in places. I picked it up for the Vladimir Sorokin story which concludes the volume, but that short ended up being one of the lesser reasons for liking this book.
Gary Shteyngart's "Shylock on the Neva" is told from the perspective of a doomed ogliarch paying a portrait painter to capture his true debased nature. It will certainly propell me to read further Shteyngart. We are made privy to such a weird world in this piece and the text nonetheless seems utterly native to it; worthless wealth and resignment.
"The Ambassador's Son" is the second thing I've read from Tom Bissell. The first was an elegiac travel narrative about Uzbekistan. That text was somewhat self involved but very interesting in places. The same could be said for this work, which is actually more successful because he has invented the self-obsessed character of the Ambassador's Son to propell the action through a Grimy Central asian capital.
Arthur Phillips much heralded novel Prague is a little wishy-washy in my opinion with lots of overblown nostalgia for events as they unfold. His piece in this book is no different, except that in unravels around some convoluted spy game. But besides that it takes place some melancholy capitol where there is a palpable sense that the life you love is gone before you've lived it.
I loved "The Condor" which read like a fable of war and seems effortless in its relation of fact, deadpan in its reportage of humor. I've never read any Milenko Jergovik, but he seems to approach the short story much like Julio Cortazar through simple language, shoulder shrugging and with a complete lack of bafflement by the absurd.
The capper on this collection is "Babylon Revisited Redux" by John Beckman. Told from the perspective of Dan Quayle, we watch the former vice president stagger innocently, though drunkenly into a shady Polish real estate scheme only to be delivered by his mystery author wife who has solved the case before any permanent damage is done. A mix of affable mid-western attitudes on the part of Dan Quayle and a vague thuggish Polish crime syndicate.
All in all, I doubt I've encountered a short story compilation that gathers so many good quality reads in one place.
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