“Moscow Dreams” by Julia Gousseva is one of the most captivating and engaging books I have read in some time.
The teenage heroine, Marina, is preparing for her future education with a view to Linguistic and English language when the 1991 political developments in the Soviet Union bring uncertain and volatile times for her and her peers.
In the struggle for Democracy Gorbachev is being kidnapped, McDonalds opens a restaurant in Moscow, Yeltsin announces the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist Party.
Reading about it as it is being told from the perspective of a teenage girl I feel that I understood the dynamics of the times only now properly for the first time. Marina and her friends experience the changes together but every one of them has different dreams, different goals and different backgrounds.
While the political changes aren’t always good (food rationing and crime waves to name but two) the characters reflect perfectly the conflicting emotions and experiences of the new era.
Marina and her friends are great characters that not only drive the plot easily but they are people you can perfectly relate to. Gousseva does an excellent job at showing the unique moment in time in modern Russian history for us foreigners from the West, so we can understand better how it impacted personally and in a wider cultural context.Giving us some historical and political background and fleshing it out with youthful romance Moscow Dream is exactly the kind of novel I love.
Written in excellent prose, perfect pacing and just the right amount of emotions this is a touching, informative and wonderful reading experience that I cannot recommend enough.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR:
Your novel is set in Moscow at a time of great changes. Can you briefly explain how much of the story is biographical and how much was researched?
I lived in Moscow in 1991 and worked as a Russian-English interpreter for a British cameraman. I described all the events in the story from personal experience since we spent the three days of the attempted coup in 1991 walking and driving around Moscow, participating in various gatherings, and taking pictures. I had to research some specific details, such as days of the week when the coup happened, the exact quotes from Yeltsin’s speech, numbers of tanks involved, things like that.
Can you tell us a little about yourself now, where you live and about your life since Russia?
After the coup failed, Russia suddenly felt like a much more open country. Western companies opened offices in Moscow, travel restrictions for Russians wanting to go abroad were lifted by the government, and there was an overwhelming feeling of new opportunities that we all wanted to experience for ourselves.
At the time, I had just graduated from the Moscow State Linguistics University and wanted to try everything that this new life had to offer. My interpreting skills took me all over Russia and the former Soviet Union, from Western Siberia to the Arctic regions of the Komi Republic to wineries in Moldova and film studios in St. Petersburg. I felt that there was no van, bus, helicopter, train, or plane that I had not been on.
One of my jobs got me involved with an educational organization that administered US graduate school exams. The American lady I worked with in that organization encouraged me to take those exams and apply to graduate school in the US. I did (just to do it! because the opportunity was there!) but quickly realized that the incredibly slow speed of the Russian postal service would prevent me from having any chance of even getting my application in on time to a US university. I was about to give up when the University of Arizona sent me their fax number. That sealed the deal. I was not only accepted but given a chance to work as a graduate teaching assistant to help with tuition payments. I took the chance. Now, many years later, I have a Masters’ and a PhD from the University of Arizona and teach writing full-time for Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. I love every minute of it! And the sunshine still feels like a gift every day. I’ll take triple digit summer temperatures over the frozen darkness of the Arctic polar night any time!
How did the idea for the novel come to you?
The coup of 1991 is the only revolution I have personally experienced, so the choice was easy. I just had to write about it
Did you have any say in the artistic cover art and how was that process?
As I’m learning now, most writers find graphic designers to create their covers. And that’s smart. My only attempt to find a graphic designer for that cover was a disastrous one, so I decided (not so smart!) to design the cover myself. I wanted to show a young couple in an outdoor setting – thus, the couple by the wrought-iron structure. That structure reminds me of the embankment of the Moskva River where a few important moments of the book take place. I also wanted to convey the feeling of instability and change by including a leaning Kremlin tower. The concept of “kremlin” and the fort itself has been a constant in the history of Russia since at least the 14th century, but it was in the early 1990’s that it felt that all the familiar concepts and life itself were shifting, changing, and becoming unstable. No more constants! And, of course, the sky had to be dark and cloudy – no political statement here. Just the reality of Moscow weather.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best aspect of writing is writing, in all its stages. The worst? Having to stop to make dinner, run errands, or vacuum. Luckily, I live in the desert, so gardening takes care of itself. Just throw a few rocks and garden gnomes around, and it’s all done!
What do you do when you don’t write?
I’ve always loved dancing (no connection between passion and skill though!), and now I am a Zumba fanatic. If I don’t go to a Zumba class at least five days a week, my life feels incomplete.
What are you writing now?
I am in the process of editing my latest novel titled Anya’s Story. It is set in Russia in the early 1990’s and traces the lives of two young women, Anya and Katia.
Anya’s life takes her from Moscow to a small town where her husband serves as a submarine officer in the Russian Northern Fleet. She thinks that her life as a military wife will bring her stability and security, but that doesn’t work out the way she expected.
Katia stays in Moscow, goes to college, but gradually gets drawn into business ventures. At that time in Russia, many business ventures quickly became dangerous, as Katia soon finds out.
Earlier, you asked me about cover designs. I’m absolutely thrilled with the cover for Anya’s Story. It was created by my friend Vardan Partamyan, a talented writer of dystopian fiction and a perceptive graphic designer. Why perceptive? One night, Vardan and I talked about possible images I wanted to see on the cover. My vision for the cover was blurred at best! The next morning, I woke up to find this amazing cover that he designed and sent me. Thank you, Vardan!
Links to connect with Julia:
My review of Julia’s Short Stories
Telling a story for each month of the year Gousseva takes us back to a simple time in her life. Yes, Communist rules determine a lot of her life but the book does not bemoan hardship or missed material goods. It is a sentimental journey into all-day-life and special occasions of her life.
Having had relatives on the other side of the Berlin Wall I have found it always very hard to imagine just how life was for people in ‘The East’, and many comparisons of our and their lives tended to focus on TV, VHS and Cigarette brands. All very justifiable points, but to portray life the way Gousseva does is a true gift.
Gousseva introduces most of her stories with author notes, giving background information on cultural or climatic factors that come into play in her writing later, but the stories concern what would concern a child on either side of the iron curtain: A music box, the family garden, or questions like: How do we feel when we benefit from a friend being punished? What does a hedgehog perceive?
The location of these personal memories and stories could be almost seen as secondary, but with the author’s thoughtful notes and the many interesting small facts that are included, Gousseva draws a vivid picture of life in her Russia.
I would like to thank the author for sharing the memories with us and allowing us some further insight into a world we would otherwise know little about. It is wonderful to learn that there were so many good moments and so many pleasures despite oppression and deprivation.