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33 Moments of Happiness


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About the Author

Ingo Schulze, born in Dresden in 1962, studied classical philology at the University of Jena. He worked as the dramaturg at the Altenburg Theater until 1990, and then became a newspaper editor, a job that took him to St. Petersburg for six months in 1993. Since then he has lived in Berlin. His first book, 33 Moments of Happiness has won both the prestigious D blin Prize and the Willner Prize for Literature. Three of the stories in this collection have recently appeared in The New Yorker.


From the pen of German dramaturge and newspaper journalist Schulze comes this tour de force of short-story writing, a remarkable gathering of "sketches" of modern-day St. Petersburg. Schulze, clearly a devoted student of Russian literature, constructs characters and scenes that portray complex aspects of the Russian character. In the first of several clever literary devices, Schulze distances himself from the narrative: the 33 sketches, he writes in a preface, were merely found on a train by someone else; in them, the author, a German businessman, "yielded more and more to his inclination to invent rather than to research." Some of the vignettes are presented as letters or snatches of overheard dialogue, and there are "editorial notes" at the end just in case the reader misses the recondite allusions to the work of Pushkin or Bulgakov. No matter; when the curtain rises on each brief piece the reader is instantly transported. In the Hotel St. Petersburg, the narrator is entranced by the lovely, elusive Maria, who recites Brodsky "as if she were planning a menu according to the vintage of the wines" before taking his money. There's a violent Mafia shoot-out at a disco that might or might not have been staged for the cameras. In everyday situations revealing Gogolian slight of hand or crowd scenes that erupt from Dostoyevskian despair, Schulze attempts to fathom the Russian soul‘the immense capacity for the spiritual, as well as a recidivist brutality and "astounding ingenuity for humiliating others." Accomplished translator Woods has flawlessly rendered a rare and memorable work. First serial to the New Yorker.

It is an act of bravura for an outsider to attempt a literary portrait of a foreign city, but Schulze succeeds magnificently here. Usually beginning with a detailed and convincing depiction of life in the postcommunist era, Schulze sometimes stays within the bounds of realism, but more frequently uses the background as a platform to launch a flight of fantasy, sometimes charming, sometimes scurrilous, and sometimes scandalous but always thought-provoking. These stories, which do indeed revolve around moments of happiness, culminate in generalizations about the Russian character that would be banal if stated plainly and simply, but they acquire an odd authenticity when the reader glimpses them lurking behind the characters an their situations. While some of these stories would probably perplex or even irritate native Saint Petersburgers, they are probably as close to the soul of this fabled city as an outsider's imagination ever gets. Highly recommended.‘Michael T. O'Pecko, Towson State Univ., Md.

"Fantastic and fantastical."?Los Angeles Times

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