Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya

There are times when one wants to sit down and read a book but simply doesn’t have the time, focus, patience or energy to devote to such an undertaking.  That is where collections of short stories fit in.  They allow the reader to go through one or more stories as they have the time.  Allowing one to get that much needed creative break.

I was in one of these quandaries when I found the collection of short stories “Aetherial Worlds” by Tatyana Tolstaya.  These stories are contemplations of time, place and space.  Just out of the ordinary enough to make one wonder, could this really happen?  Or even has it happened already?

The description from the jacket cover is as follows:

“From one of modern Russia’s finest writers, a spellbinding collection of eighteen stories – her first to be translated into English in more than twenty years.

Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories.  A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian Professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.  With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives.  These tales about politics, identity, love and loss, cut to the core of the Russian psyche, even as they lay bare human universals.  Tolstaya’s characters – seekers all- are daydreaming children, lonely adults, dislocated foreigners in unfamiliar lands.  Whether contemplating the strategic complexities of delivering telegrams in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, vibrant inner lives and the grim elements of existence are registered in equally sharp detail, giving way to a starkly bleak but sympathetic vision of life on earth.

Written with wit and candor, compassion and depth, and piercing emotional and political acuity, Aetherial Worlds is a shimmering and unique collection from one of the first women to rank among Russia’s most important writers.”

I greatly enjoyed this collection of stories. Some are quite short, only a couple of pages.  Like “Passing Through” with its explanation of what happens to socks in the laundry, the mystery of missing objects and curious items that randomly appear.  Others were longer.  One of these called “The Invisible Maiden” seemed to be many stories in one focusing on the people who would come to a particular family dacha every summer. A cautionary tale, “The Window” hands out things free of charge but come at an altogether different price.

Ms. Tolstaya’s writing draws you in.  Reading her stories are like picking up a conversation with a dear friend that you haven’t seen in years.  No additional introduction is needed, they pick up right where they are supposed to be.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the dachas, delivering telegrams in Leningrad, driving in snow, illumination on Italian tombs and church ceilings in Ravenna, etc.  Each story captures the readers imagination in part due to the wonderful descriptions.

I highly recommend this collection of stories.  If you have a chance to pick up Tatyana Tolstaya’s collection of stories entitled “Aetherial Worlds” you will not be disappointed.