The Prussian Bride contains all the ingredients to make it as successful as Buida's first novel, The Zero Train, which was published to great acclaim in 2001. His prose is crisp and he successfully conjures a world as fantastic as any in contemporary literature.
David Archibald in Scotland on Sunday
The Kaliningrad region is in an odd geographical and historical situation. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has been cut off from the rest of Russia, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. The region itself is only recently Russian -it was once East Prussia and its Russian inhabitants replaced the indigenous German population after the Second World War. Yuri Buida's magnificent collection of stories about his home town reflects these anomalies and presents a powerful and hilarious meditation on dislocated identities. The name Buida, as he tells us, means liar in Polish, and this appropriately reflects the imaginative invention that gives meaning to the lives of a populace who lack a clear place in history. Everything here is transformed, but only to give a greater force to the depiction of human suffering and joys. The whole effect is of a people's imagination confined by historical and geographical forces bursting forth in Rabelaisian splendour, without losing the stoicism that enabled them to endure the hardships of Communism. The stories show an ironic awareness of the power and dangers of self-deception, while seeing it as the only way of living a coherent life.
Buida's earlier novel, Zero Train (2001), was also powerful, but the theme of history's power to fragment ordinary lives works better in short-story format than in a continuous narrative. As we read through the stories in
The Prussian Bride, we get a Brueghel-like picture of a community held together by ragged threads. The families in these stories are disjointed,cobbled together from casually adopted orphans and catatonic or otherwise
absent wives and husbands. As in Zero Train, there is a sustained engagement with the absurd fantasies of self-empowerment that men construct to cope with their political impotence, but there is also more obvious
engagement here with a range of women's characters, some suffering silently, others taking control of life and their appetites.
The form of the stories is wonderfully varied, and the different registers are brilliantly captured by the translator, Oliver Ready. Perhaps the most effective are the longer ones such as 'Rita Schmidt Whoever', which is
about a German girl left behind after the deportation, only to be bullied by her grotesque adoptive mother; she is a girl who, in the midst of her sufferings, is able, like Christ in Gethsemane, to sum up her life-
something the narrator believes we all strive for. This is not a matter of truth: 'No court can thrash that out of a person. Anyway, the facts die,only the legend lasts. The lie, if you like. Now there's something you can't argue with.' The story goes on to demonstrate this to great effect, turning into a faked reflection on the detective story's search for truth.Yet here, as in some of the more lyrical miniature stories, it is the casual references to the town's life, often fuelled by a delighted cloacal fascination, that gives the collection its particular character.
For example, early in the book, we encounter Gramp Mukhanov, who 'out of sheer malice and bloody-mindedness' had built a wooden lavatory above the roof of his house, 'fixing it in place with poles and rusty pipes tied together with wire (he risked his life twice a day, did Gramp, clambering up the rickety ladder to his starling-house; a minute later the town's sharper-eyed inhabitants could follow the distant flight of his excrement as it fell through a hole in the cabin floor into a basin on the ground).' We keep encountering this obstinate old man, smoking his cigarettes made out of Georgian tea, and that makeshift WC comes to mind: a proper response to Stalinism, and a symbol, perhaps, of not being at home in your own land.
Tom MacFaul in The Times Literary Supplement
Bakunin, Buida and Pelevin are interesting contemporary writers - all well translated.
Building a 20th-century Russian literature library by Robert Chandler in The Independent on Sunday
Oliver Ready's translation of The Prussian Bride was awarded the inaugural Russian Translation Prize.
Times Literary Supplement.
Another triumph for Yuri Buida, this is the second of his books to be translated into English, and like his first - The Zero Train - it was shortlisted for the Russian equivalent of the Booker Prize. It has also won a prestigious Apollon Grigoriev award. Buida was born in 1954 in the Kaliningrad Region. This area was formerly East Prussia and had been resettled with Soviet citizens a few years before Buida's birth. The result was an alien place populated by displaced individuals: 'Germans had lived here. Then they were deported. A ten-twenty-thirty year layer of Russian life trembled on a seven-hundred-year foundation about which I knew nothing. So the child began to invent.' Over a number of years Buida wrote and invented details about the area, and this is the resulting collection of 31 tales. The book makes for a surreal experience: his characters include widows, whores, resurrected politicians, madmen, orphans and ghosts, and they exist together in a dream-like blend of fantasy and bitter memory. All the extremes of human emotions are exposed: murder, abuse, passion, debts of honour, devotion, compassion are all here. Appalling, haunting and uplifting, this book is unlike anything you have read before, and completely unforgettable.