‘Never return to the places where you’ve been happy’
Never return to the places where you’ve been happy, my father always said.
Ever since I started writing fiction, I’ve crafted not-always-happy stories about the country of my overwhelmingly happy childhood. It was no Utopia, of course, especially in the economic scramble after the fall of Soviet Union. And divorce, that common domestic beast, snarled at our doorstep too. But my family remained close and mostly functional, my parents fiercely protective of my sister’s innocence and mine. Our little universe was blurred by the sleep of childhood, the all-blinding drama of school life; steeped in fairy tales, literature, music and dance classes; and buried in the long, glittery winters. By the time I began reconstructing it through narrative, the Russia of my memories was largely imaginary – a cauldron of nostalgia-tinted material, which I calibrated with scrupulous research. After all, I wanted to write about the real Russia – whatever that is.
Almost thirteen years after I’d emigrated as a teenager, I travelled back to Stavropol, my mother’s hometown in the South of Russia, to see my sick grandmother. I felt I was taking a creative risk: how would my writing change in the face of such a strong dose of reality?