SPRING IN SIBERIA: A Novel
by Artem Mozgovoy
Red Hen Press. 256 pages, $18.95
Alexey put on layers of clothes, readying himself for the long winter walk in deep Siberia to his elementary school, the Palace of Knowledge. Called “alien” there due to his large head, he spent time alone with thoughts of escaping the swirling antagonisms. Physical Culture courses were the bane of his existence. Instead, he buried himself in the school library, where poetry books and an English language program caught his interest. He was hooked, and he found his way to the Pioneers’ House of Culture, where he recited a poem by Pushkin, winning a spot at a summer camp for gifted children. That led to his acceptance into a prestigious gymnasium for elite students.
Alexey met Andrey there, an older and wiser student who became his constant companion. After spending time together, Andrey whispered: “I’m afraid I love you.” Nothing had prepared Alexey for this declaration, though in his heart he knew he felt the same toward Andrey. Through long walks, tram rides, and discussions, Andrey’s ideas about literature, music, and culture flooded Alexey’s mind. At graduation, they joined a summer tour of Moscow, Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam. Encouraged by Andrey to run off and remain in the West, seeking asylum as members of a sexual minority, Alexey balked at the idea: he could not do it.
Returning to Siberia alone, Alexey wondered what happened to his friend Andrey: did his dream come true? Meanwhile, he intently studied English. A national contest to write a best essay in English offered the prize of a year’s study in New York City. Alexey met the challenge and won a place. He was confident now on his own pathway out of Russia. He would immerse himself in writing, finding a way to stay in the West, never to return to Siberia. —Joe Ryan