A Q&A with Andrei Gelasimov, Author of "Thirst"
Andrei Gelasimov became an overnight literary sensation in Russia in 2001 when his story “A Tender Age” won critical acclaim and went on to garner the Apollon-Grigoriev Prize and a nomination for the Belkin Prize. Thirst, Gelasimov's first book published in English, comes out today in a translation by the award-winning Marian Schwartz.
Question: Thirst centers on Kostya, a wounded young man who comes home from war broken and jaded. Have you seen battle firsthand? Why did you choose to put yourself inside of the mind of a tortured soldier?
Andrei Gelasimov: I’ve never been to a war, but I was raised in the family of an officer. My grandfather fought against Japanese troops in 1945. He used to tell me a lot about that war, and I was a keen listener. What could be more gripping for a 10-year-old boy? But I wouldn’t say that my book is exactly about war. A bit later, when my grandfather died, there came an understanding that all of us are “tortured soldiers” to a certain extent--including those who never saw any battle or held any weapons in their hands.
Q: The book takes place in and around the Moscow suburbs and deals with veterans of the Chechen War. But the fears, vices, pain, and petty quibbles of Kostya’s friends are universal. Did you imagine this story would be read outside Russia?
AG: At the time, I never thought about such things. I was simply overwhelmed with grief and sorrow for the generation of students born at the end of Soviet era and doomed to redeem sins they never committed. Perhaps there is a universal law according to which innocent boys must suffer greatly for what their fathers did. And these youngsters are sacrificed everywhere, not only in Russia. I don’t think it matters in what language you are trying to tell it.
Q: Kostya’s true talent is drawing. Why did you create a character who is both haunted by images and consoled by them?
Q: How does Thirst compare to your other works, such as The Lying Year and The Gods of the Steppes, which will be released in English next year?
AG: For me, it’s impossible to enter one river twice. New water, new splashes, new me with new shivers--new everything. When I start my next book, I always invent a completely fresh universe from scratch. The Lying Year is an attempt at a humorous and lyric approach to the period of post-Soviet life that was not funny at all in reality. The end of the 1990s in Russia--with all the bandits, poverty, nouveau riche, and all that jazz--was a disaster. Unlike Thirst, that book is about entertainment.
The Gods of the Steppes depicts quite a different world. The action takes place in the Eastern outskirts of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1945, just before the final battle against the Japanese Army in World War II. Nothing funny there at all: great victory, great losses, and local boys dreaming of never-ending war.