The world Reva creates slips fluidly from the surreal to the absurd to the grittily realistic.


Stories centered on a particular apartment building in a small Ukrainian town.

In the last story of this debut collection, oligarchs, tycoons, and celebrities in post-Soviet Ukraine pay good money for transformative experiences. One popular option re-creates One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: “Clients are carted out to the fringe of the Arctic Circle,” Reva writes, where “they must mop the guardhouse, lay brick walls with quick-dry mortar, fight over stone-hard bread,” all while “a guard flogs them.” Reva’s world tips slyly from Soviet-style absurdism to a more fantastical surrealism. Each of these stories is connected, in one way or another, to an apartment building in Kirovka, Ukraine. In the book’s first half, the Soviet Union still stands; in the second half, it has fallen. Characters appear and reappear in various guises. In “Bone Music,” Smena, who hasn’t left her apartment in a year, earns a living making copies of illegal vinyl records onto X-ray film. In “Novostroïka,” Daniil argues with a town hall clerk who insists that his apartment building does not, in fact, exist. “What do you mean?” he asks. “I live there.” “According to the documentation, you do not,” she responds. Reva has a wonderful sense of humor and an equally wonderful sense of the absurd. But the book is slim enough that the reappearances of certain characters and images feel overdone. Smena’s X-ray music comes back several times. So does Mikhail Ivanovich, a low-level apparatchik who, in “Letter of Apology,” is assigned to track a famous poet; later, in “Lucky Toss,” he winds up working for him. The effect is somewhat claustrophobic. Still, Reva is clearly a talent to watch: Her prose has a neat efficiency, and her stories are as memorable as they are unique.

The world Reva creates slips fluidly from the surreal to the absurd to the grittily realistic.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54529-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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