Aetherial Worlds


Title: Aetherial Worlds: Stories 

Writer: Tatyana Tolstaya

Publishing House: Knopf Publishing Group

Date of Publication: March 20th 2018

Rating: 5 stars

“It’s dusk, the heavy drapes drawn back. Outside, through the window, there is a crepuscular Saint Petersburg, early evening on snowy streets; a sleigh pulled by a courser silently whooshes by—who’s rushing, and where? To the theater? To a romantic rendezvous?”

We all know the contribution of the Russian writers to the literary world. Most of us are sworn avid readers of the classics. Speaking strictly for me, I discovered the beauty and vastness of Russian Literature through the much-loved, nearly crumbled paperback editions of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s masterpieces that belonged to my father. He initiated me to the snowy, haunting landscapes of this mystical, vast country which extents in two continents. Then came Pushkin, Gogol, Pasternak and so many others. But what about our times? What is the contemporary approach to writing in Russia? Well, it seems to me that the great tradition of beautiful language that offers a poignant journey to thoughts and feelings is strong and undiminished…

These stories, some derived from Tolstaya’s personal experiences, some glorious works of fiction are a fascinating example of the everlasting beauty of Russian Literature. Aetherial Worlds open with a powerful introduction where the writer juxtaposes her experience of a myopia operation to the writing of her first short story. These are some of the highlights of the collection.

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“And if you feel like senselessly crying, do it now, while nobody can see you.”

Aspic:The preparation of a formal dinner. The obligation of the hostess to put on a mask in front of her guests.

“Life is but smoke and shadows.”

Smoke and Shadows:To say this story was shocking would be an understatement.What starts as the musings of a love affair doomed by cultural differences becomes a tale of obsession. Fantastic!

There: A story of socks lost in the washing machine and domestic goblins. The disappearing socks provide a simile for the people who used to simply disappear during the nightmare of the Soviet era.

“Was she happy? Did she see from her window the white night outside, the alleyways covered with transparent haze and twilight-colored bushes? Whom does she love? Who loves her? And me, whom do I love?

A Young Lady in Bloom: A lively story about a summer job in a post-office during the 1970s. A beautiful, strangely sad journey to Saint Petersburg delivering telegrams…

Father: An ode to the paternal figure through the writer’s memories of her now deceased father. A beautiful, tenderly haunting text that brought tears to my eyes…

The Square: A beautiful text on the great Kazimir Malevich and the sacred literary figure of Leo Tolstoy.

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“Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining, I’ll corner you and eat your brains for breakfast.”

Aetherial Worlds: Apart from the fact that this quote is me in a nutshell, the story that lends its title to the collection is a moving, thoughtful piece about cultural shock and the will to understand each other, no matter how difficult it may be. Tolstaya’s pen is sad, nostalgic, funny as a new house becomes the metaphor for a new life.

P.S. I never stop marveling at the stupidity of a certain type of students….

See the Reverse: A beautiful text on the marvel that is Ravenna, a moving elegy for the writer’s father and the finest closure for a shuttering, tender and meaningful collection.

In these beautiful, funny and sometimes tragic passages, Tolstaya has poured her heart and soul to speak to the reader. We should listen….One small complain, though. I think the writer had the Mycenaeans and the Minoans awfully confused…..

I don’t know its geography, its mountains, or its seas; it’s so vast, it must be limitless. Or perhaps it’s not simply one world—perhaps there are many. They are unpredictable: they can show themselves to you, or not. Some days they may not let you inside: Sorry, the doors are locked, we’re on holiday. But to the patient and the devoted, they will in the end always yield. The doors will open, and you won’t know what you will come across until you enter.”

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.

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  1. This sounds interesting, I might check it out since I’m into short stories lately 🙂 And it goes without saying – beautifully written review Amalia! I wish I could write like you 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much, Marina:) You know how much I adore your reviews💙 I love short stories and the Russian writers are true masters of this genre. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

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