Finally, in the post-glasnost era, Russian women are taking a stand against the male-dominated literary establishment and publishing their own anthologies—a courageous act that may turn them into heroines, if not great writers. Here, two of the nine stories collected and translated by Soviet-born freelance journalist Gessen stand as literary gems that don't require her clamorous introductions to prop them up within a sociopolitical context. In ``The Day of the Poplar Flakes,'' by Marina Paley (a 1992 Booker Prize nominee), the happiness of a young female intern is shattered on her first day in the intensive care unit when she witnesses a dying patient's deplorable treatment. ``The Clean Zone,'' by Siberian-born Irina Polianskaya, addresses similar issues through a cancer patient's eyes as she waits for surgery in a crowded room and remembers her youth in a prison camp, where her scientist father did atomic research. Tarasova's ``She Who Bears No Ill'' is also an accomplished, if overlong, Kafkaesque tale written in the early 1980s but not published until recently. The story's main character suffers from a disfiguring, degenerative disease and chooses to lock herself in a mental institution rather than live with the disgust of her family and neighbors. The six remaining stories seem like the work of neophytes compared to these. Lengthy and sprawling, they lack both focus and narrative drive. One, the most radical and explosive in the collection, is apparently so shocking by Russian standards that it has never before been published; but Natalia Shluga's 41- page ``Mashka and Asiunia,'' described by Gessen as ``lesbian fiction,'' is so convoluted, unfocused, and obscure that the lesbian angle would be entirely missed if not for Gessen's exuberant and pointed introduction. Of sociological significance, no doubt, for Russophiles and students of Soviet history; but, for most, only thinly rewarding.
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