Kalfus plucks individual lives from the stew of a century of Russian history and serves them up in tales that range from hair-raising to comic to fabulous. The astonishing title story follows a doomed nuclear power plant worker as he hawks a most unusual package on the black market — a canister of weapons-grade plutonium. In "Orbit," the first cosmonaut navigates several items not on the preflight checklist as he prepares to blaze the trail for the new communist society, "floating free of terrestrial compromise." In "Budyonnovsk," a young man hopes desperately that the takeover of his town by Chechen rebels will somehow save his marriage. Set in the 1920s, "Birobidzhan" is the bittersweet story of a Jewish couple journeying to the Soviet Far East, where they intend to establish the modern world’s first Jewish state. The novella, "Peredelkino," which closes the book, traces the fortunes of a 1960s literary apparatchik whose romantic intrigues inadvertently become political. Together, these works of fiction capture the famously enigmatic Russian psyche. They display Kalfus’ ability to imagine a variety of believable yet wholly singular characters whose lives percolate against a backdrop of momentous events.
Ken Kalfus: PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies
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